By Ronald Baygents, KUNA
Washington : Senator Barack Obama, who aims to become the first African-American president of the United States, convincingly won the Iowa caucuses Thursday night to become the front runner in the contest for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who was far behind in polls a few months ago, won even more strongly in the Republican caucuses, soundly defeating former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who outspent Huckabee in Iowa by more than 10 to 1.
Evangelical Christians were the key to victory for Huckabee, who has a theology degree and is a Baptist minister. Romney, a Mormon, ran the most negative campaign with attack ads on TV that failed to derail the Huckabee bandwagon.
Senator Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, finished third among Democrats — a major blow to her well-funded and well-organized campaign in which her husband, former president Bill Clinton, was highly visible.
Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who placed second in the Iowa caucuses four years ago and was chosen as the 2004 Democratic vice presidential running mate to Democratic nominee John Kerry, came in second in Iowa again this year.
“One thing that is clear from the results in Iowa tonight is the status quo lost and change won,” Edwards told cheering supporters in a clear barb aimed at Clinton, who had attempted to convince voters that experience was more important than trusting untested newcomers.
But it was a night for the newcomers in Iowa.
Obama, 46, is the son of a Kenyan father and Kansas mother and is only in his first term as US senator from Illinois. One key to his victory was that he won over the youth vote and independents among many first-time caucusing Iowa Democrats.
Obama captured 38 percent support among Democrats while Edwards, who framed his campaign as a battle against special interests, finished with 30 percent compared to 29 percent for Clinton.
Huckabee won with 34 percent among Republicans compared to 25 percent for Romney. Senator John McCain of Arizona drew 14 percent among Republicans while former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee got 13 percent.
The candidates were all expected to immediately head for New Hampshire, where the first regular US primary election takes place on Tuesday.
Among Democrats in Iowa, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson pulled in 2 percent, while Senator Joe Biden got 1 percent. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who got less than 1 percent among the Democrats, was expected to announce his withdrawal from the race.
Maverick Republican Ron Paul, a libertarian, garnered 10 percent among Republicans while former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who did little campaigning in Iowa, got 4 percent.
Giuliani, who months ago was considered the national front runner among the Republicans, has suffered amid news reports that focused on legal problems of his past associates as well as his use of taxpayer funds to provide security for his then-mistress — and current wife — while he was New York mayor.