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Obama Wins Iowa's Democratic Caucuses
After the results came in, Biden, who had hoped his foreign policy expertise would give him a chance to be competitive, and Dodd, who had moved his family to Iowa for the caucuses, announced their decisions to quit the race, making them the first major casualties of the Democratic contest.
Iowa Democrats clearly responded to Obama's change-oriented message. Half of the voters who turned out Thursday night said they were looking for a candidate who could bring change to the country while just a fifth said they most prized experience in a potential nominee. Half of those change-oriented voters backed Obama in the caucuses and helped propel him to victory.
The outcome in Iowa sets the stage for what will be a high-stakes battle in New Hampshire on Tuesday, with Clinton now fighting for survival in a state where her once-hefty lead has largely evaporated in the past two months and Obama has been rising.
The New Hampshire primary will be followed by caucuses in Nevada and a critical showdown in South Carolina later this month. The biggest single day of voting ever in a nomination contest will come on Feb. 5, when several of the nation's largest states will hold primaries.
Clinton's campaign long dreaded the results in Iowa, a state that showed resistance to the senator's candidacy despite her popularity nationally and the goodwill felt toward her husband, who campaigned vigorously for her in the final days.
With a huge campaign fund and much of the party establishment behind her, Clinton will have significant assets to employ in the coming contests. But Obama also has a massive campaign fund and has already begun to put organizations into the later-voting states in what his advisers have anticipated could be a lengthy and brutal battle in the weeks ahead.
Edwards's second-place finish was a setback to his hopes of winning the nomination. The former senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee had staked his candidacy on a victory in Iowa, and in the closing days of the campaign appeared to be gaining strength on the basis of his populist appeal to Democrats to rise up and take on corporate interests in Washington.
But the former senator sounded unbowed when he addressed his supporters, saying he had taken on two candidates with vastly superior resources and more than held his own. "The status quo lost and change won," Edwards told a cheering crowd at a downtown Des Moines hotel. "We saw two candidates who thought their money made them inevitable."
But Iowa voters, he said, showed that "if you have a little backbone, a little courage," you can deliver a powerful message, and "that message to the American people is unstoppable, no matter how much money."
"It's undeniably a three-way race. Game on," said Edwards strategist Jonathan Prince. "We were competitive in a caucus that was like a primary. More than 200,000 showed up. Everybody thought we'd be in trouble if the number went above 120,000." Among those skeptics had been senior members of Edwards's campaign team.
The extraordinary turnout was reflected in an entrance poll of Democratic attendees by the National Election Pool, which found that 57 percent said they were participating for the first time. About four in 10 of those newcomers favored Obama.
The fault line in the Democratic race long has been between those voters looking for a candidate with experience and those seeking a leader who represents new ideas and a new direction. In Iowa on Thursday night, voters decisively said they wanted change.