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Obama, Huckabee Stake Their Claims in Iowa

Author: Robert McMahon, Editor
January 4, 2008

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Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee have touted their convincing wins (DMRegister) in the Iowa presidential caucuses January 3 as mandates for change in Washington. While it was not immediately clear which of their policies most resonated with Iowa voters, initial polling of members of both parties showed the economy was one of the top two most important issues (CNN). The caucuses, the first official test of the nationwide presidential contest, attracted strong turnout of Iowans of both parties at a time of concern over rising oil prices, the mortgage crisis, immigration, and health care.

Entrance polling showed Sen. Obama (D-IL) garnered especially strong support among young voters (CNN) and Huckabee captured a large number of the state’s Republicans who identify as evangelicals (WashPost). Both still face major challenges—Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who finished third in Iowa, has a commanding lead over Obama in nationwide polls, and Huckabee has only a fledgling campaign organization outside of Iowa. But analysts saw their victories as signs of potentially broader unease and divisions in their respective parties. Iowa has already had the effect of winnowing the field. Veteran Democratic senators Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd, longtime members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dropped out (Politico) of the race after their poor showing in Iowa.

Obama and Huckabee have campaigned as presidential candidates vowing to sharply change the tone of U.S. engagement with the world. In his Foreign Affairs essay, Obama identified climate change as a principle global threat and promised revitalized diplomacy aimed at countering international terrorism and other security challenges. Obama and his two main competitors in Iowa—Clinton and Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)—hold similar views on Iraq, seeking an early troop drawdown but with a significant U.S. military presence remaining in the region. Similarly, on trade, all three also have expressed deep skepticism about the course of U.S. trade policy, seeking to add more conditions to free trade deals. Obama has sought to distinguish himself as a candidate who can best build coalitions to solve the nation’s problems, demonstrating what journalist Andrew Sullivan writes in the Atlantic is his capability to move the country beyond the “bitter, brutal tone of American politics.”

Huckabee made headlines in his recent Foreign Affairs essay by criticizing what he called an “arrogant bunker mentality” by the Bush administration. His piece focused almost exclusively on challenges posed by Muslim fundamentalism and he emphasized a new attitude in U.S. foreign policy. In the closing weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Huckabee drew a harder line on illegal immigration after facing a string of attacks from rival Mitt Romney that his record as Arkansas governor was too soft. Poll results showed the immigration issue did not damage Huckabee in Iowa. On the Republican side, Zev Chafets wrote in the New York Times Magazine ahead of the Iowa voting that Huckabee was already the surprise of the campaign season. Huckabee, he wrote, took a contest expected to focus on national security and foreign policy and “moved it to issues of character, religion, and personality.”

Iowa represents a mere fraction of the U.S. population and attracts criticism (Reuters) for holding an undeserved place as the first presidential testing ground. But Iowa’s voters have raised the pressure (The Hill) on the Obama’s and Huckabee’s rivals in the runup to the January 8 primaries in New Hampshire.

A frenzied selection process (WashPost) now kicks off in which twenty-two states will vote on or before February 5. The nation will then have a better idea about Iowa’s role in signaling change.

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