Huckabee Wins Iowa's Republican Caucuses

Mike Huckabee addresses his supporters after the Iowa Caucus results filter in. Video by APEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/
By Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 4, 2008

DES MOINES, Jan. 3 -- Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee rode a wave of evangelical fervor to victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa's Republican caucuses Thursday, an outcome that hardly seemed possible two months ago.

"Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics," Huckabee told supporters at the Embassy Suites here. "And tonight it starts here in Iowa, but it doesn't end here. It goes all the way through the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

After spending nine months near the bottom of the pack, Huckabee surged to become the front-runner in Iowa in December and never relinquished the position, despite a barrage of negative ads from Romney's methodically built and well-financed operation.

But Huckabee now heads to New Hampshire, where voting takes place Tuesday, with little support in the polls and only a ragtag organization to mount a second come-from-behind victory. To succeed, he will have to broaden his message, which has largely been designed to appeal to the Christian conservatives who helped him win Thursday night. New Hampshire voters tend to be less focused on social issues and more concerned with lowering taxes and reducing the size of government.

Thursday's turnout shattered the previous record of about 87,000 voters, with more than 125,000 projected to have caucused. Sixty percent of Republican caucusgoers described themselves as evangelicals, according to entrance polls. Those voters went for Huckabee over Romney by more than 2 to 1.

With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Huckabee had won 34 percent of the delegates awarded, Romney held 25 percent, and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) were tied for third, with about 13 percent each.

For Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, the defeat is a devastating blow to his "kindling strategy," conceived in Boston years ago, to spark a fire in the early-voting states by outspending and out-organizing his rivals. He spent millions in Iowa alone, in part by tapping his personal fortune, in the hope of building an insurmountable lead.

Standing with his wife and family, Romney, a former head of the Olympic Games, accepted the "silver" and congratulated his rival for earning the "gold." But he vowed to win first place in the "final games" and to "keep it up state after state after state."

He told a large and enthusiastic crowd that he had competed against more well-known names, such as McCain, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Thompson, a former actor, who qualified for a critical debate in New Hampshire tomorrow. "Somehow, tonight, we beat all of them," Romney said.

Romney is going all out in New Hampshire, where he headed Thursday night and where he has already begun to focus his fire not at Huckabee but at McCain, who sits atop polls there with Romney.

Aides to Romney have been forced to wage a two-front war for more than a month. In Iowa, they engaged in a losing battle to overcome Huckabee's Southern charm and support among evangelical Christians. In New Hampshire, they face McCain, whose connection to the Granite State runs deep and long, dating to his surprise victory over George W. Bush in 2000.

McCain's campaign collapsed last summer amid his steadfast support for the Iraq war and conservative anger over his support for an immigration overhaul. But he has reinvented his campaign, becoming once again the maverick underdog who succeeded so well eight years ago.

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