M A I N   N E W S

Obama beats Hillary in first test
Huckabee wins Republican contest

Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The Iowa caucuses — the first step in the long road to the White House — threw up twin surprises on Thursday night when voters in the state picked Democratic senator Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee from among a packed slate of candidates.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, is campaigning to become the nation’s first black president. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, is a Baptist minister.

Obama has been consistently placed behind senator Hillary Clinton, his party's front-runner in opinion polls. His victory was a startling setback for Clinton, a former first lady, who hopes to become the nation's first female President.

Speaking to supporters after declaring victory in the overwhelmingly white state, Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother, said: “They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to come together over a common purpose.”

He added: “You have done what the cynics said you couldn't do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this new year, 2008. We are one nation, we are one people, and the time for change has come.”

“We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America,” Obama said.

With 100 per cent of precincts reporting, Obama had 38 per cent of the delegate support, former North Carolina senator John Edwards had 30 per cent and Clinton had 29 per cent. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico placed fourth with 2 per cent. A record number of Democratic voters turned out - more than 232,000, compared with less than 125,0000 in 2004.

Political pundits point out that victories in Iowa by no means guarantee a seat in the White House. In the past, three candidates — Ronald Regan, George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton — have lost in Iowa. All went on to serve as President.

Iowa delivered fatal blows to the campaigns of senator. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Both Democrats bowed out of the White House race.

On the Republican side, Huckabee defeated front-runner Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who poured an enormous amount of money in an effort to win the state. Huckabee’s unexpected victory now puts pressure on Romney to win the primary in New Hampshire next Tuesday. A Baptist minister, Huckabee won the support of evangelical voters.

“Tonight we proved that American politics is still in the hands of ordinary folks like you,” Huckabee told supporters. Taking a dig at Romney, he added, “We’ve learned that people really are more important than the purse.”

However, Romney said the battle for the nomination was far from over. “This is obviously a bit like a baseball game, first inning. Well, it’s a 50-inning ball game. I’m going to keep on battling all the way and anticipate I get the nomination when it’s all said and done,” he told Fox News.

Huckabee won Iowa with 34 per cent of the delegate support, after 95 per cent of precincts had reported. Romney had 25 per cent, former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee had 13 per cent and Senator John McCain of Arizona had 13 per cent.

Clinton, flanked on stage by her husband former President Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeline Albright, told supporters: “What is most important now is that, as we go on with this contest, that we keep focused on the two big issues, that we answer correctly the questions that each of us has posed. How will we win in November 2008 by nominating a candidate who will be able to go the distance and who will be the best president on Day One.”

The New Hampshire primary will be followed by caucuses in Nevada and in South Carolina later this month. February 5 is a big day in the election process with several of the largest states set to hold primaries.



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