Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts surged to victory Monday night in the Iowa caucuses, giving a big boost to his once-faltering candidacy and dramatically recasting the Democratic presidential race heading into the next big contest in New Hampshire.
“Iowa, I love you,” an exultant Kerry told a cheering crowd in Des Moines. “Thank you, Iowa, for making me the comeback Kerry.”
The results were a clear case of momentum trumping organization.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean -- with his Internet-recruited army -- and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt -- standing on labor’s broad shoulders -- finished a discouraging third and fourth, respectively. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, viewed as an Iowa also-ran as recently as 10 days ago, finished a surprising second.
Gephardt, who was counting more than any candidate on victory in Iowa, scheduled a news conference today in St. Louis, where he was expected to formally quit the race.
The results were also a setback for Dean, putting a significant dent in his standing as the national Democratic frontrunner and elevating the stakes for him when New Hampshire holds the first presidential primary next Tuesday.
“We will not give up,” he declared, bellowing into a hand-held microphone in a West Des Moines ballroom packed with supporters. “We will not quit, now or ever. We want our country back.”
The New Hampshire contest is shaping up as a battle between the two New England neighbors -- Kerry and Dean -- with the added element of retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who has been climbing in New Hampshire polls after campaigning vigorously in the state.
In Iowa, it was Dean and Gephardt -- with their formidable ground troops -- who were the favorites heading into Monday night’s caucuses, a series of nearly 2,000 neighbor-to-neighbor meetings across the breadth of this middle-American state. Dean alone spent more than $3 million on TV advertising, a state record.
Instead, it was Kerry and Edwards who caught fire in the last week of the contest, as doubts about Dean’s electability grew and the two frontrunners engaged in an increasingly vitriolic back-and-forth.
With nearly 100% of precincts reporting, Kerry was winning 37.6% of the delegates allocated Monday night. Edwards was second with 32%, followed by Dean at 17.8% and Gephardt at 10.8%.
“Well, this didn’t come out the way we wanted but I’ve been through tougher fights in my life,” the congressman told supporters, with tears in his eyes.
Some members of the Gephardt campaign organization already were making plans Monday night to join with Edwards.
From a numerical standpoint, little was actually at stake in Monday night’s events, which saw more than 117,000 Iowans trooping out in single-digit temperatures for a civic exercise like few others in American politics. Just 45 delegates were up for grabs among more than 2,000 needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But as the first meaningful test of strength in the race for the White House, the results took on huge significance.
For Kerry, a four-term senator making his first try at the White House, the victory was a rapid reversal of fortune.
Just a few weeks ago, he was mortgaging his Boston mansion to pour funds into a campaign most analysts had written. After ham-handedly firing his campaign manager, he recruited a new staff -- led by associates of Massachusetts’ senior senator, Edward M. Kennedy -- and practically moved to Iowa.
He abandoned his penchant for lofty Senate-speak, pared down his stump addresses and undertook a punishing schedule, winning over audiences by staying late at events so he could answer as many questions as possible.
“We have just begun to fight,” Kerry told supporters Monday night. “Now I have a special message for the special interests that have a hold in the Bush White House. We’re coming, you’re going, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
For Edwards, the strong finish validated his strategy of staying above the pushing and shoving, instead focusing on a positive message.
Speaking to reporters in his Des Moines hotel suite, Edwards said he would not change his strategy for the New Hampshire primary. He faces a different slate of rivals there, including Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, both of whom did not compete in Iowa.
“My campaign message is what I am,” Edwards said. “I certainly won’t change what I am.”
Even before Monday night’s strong showing, he said money had begun flowing into his campaign at a quicker pace.
“A month ago I would make calls, and people were nice and friendly and some people would raise money,” Edwards said. “Now they call us back multiple times. They’re excited to be aboard.”
Dean’s third-place finish came after the candidate expressed unwavering confidence over the last few days in his campaign’s organization and the dedication of his supporters. But his computer-generated fundraising and grass-roots network -- including 2,000 volunteers from around the country who flooded the state in a get-out-the-vote blitz this weekend -- apparently could not overcome questions about the candidate’s outspokenness and viability in the general election.
Even as Dean surged through November and December, raking in record sums and racking up high-profile endorsements from the likes of former Vice President Al Gore, his popularity began slipping as a result of a series of controversial remarks.
Dean’s remarks piled up -- from his statement that the United States was not safer with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in custody to his complaint that the Democratic Party chairman was not doing enough to stem the attacks against him. Combined with a series of critical media reports, the result was a damaging portrait at a time when Democrats were seeking the strongest candidate to face President Bush in November.
As the criticism mounted, Dean aides attempted to rein in the former governor, urging him to be more cautious in his remarks. His availability to the reporters traveling with the campaign was curtailed, and the candidate attempted to curb his tongue.
But the approach backfired. Dean felt frustrated and constrained, at one point angrily snapping at a voter in a town hall meeting. Perhaps the lowest point -- before Monday night -- came last week during the last Democratic candidates debate in Iowa, which was broadcast statewide.
Throughout the two-hour program, Dean appeared tired, defensive and flustered.
On Monday night, he was stoic. “We’re just glad to get our tickets punched from Iowa,” he said on CNN. “I think the people of Iowa are great. The experience has been great for us.”
Asked if his tactics would change in New Hampshire, Dean replied, “We’ll find out when we get there.”
The Granite State holds the first primary in just eight days. Most candidates flew out of Iowa just hours after the caucuses ended in order to hit the ground in New Hampshire by dawn today for a full day of campaigning.
After the Jan. 27 primary comes a rapid-fire series of contests, spread coast to coast, that will likely settle the nominating fight by mid-March.
The surprise results Monday night capped a campaign unlike any in the rich history of the Iowa caucuses, which first gained national significance in 1976 as Jimmy Carter’s springboard to the presidency.
The Democratic candidates spent more than $10 million on TV advertising alone, a record, and also set a mark of sorts by waging what longtime observers agreed was probably the nastiest presidential fight Iowans had ever seen.
For months, the contest was a battle between Dean, the national frontrunner, and Gephardt, a local favorite. The Missouri congressman carried the state in 1988, when he first ran for president, and had rarely stopped campaigning here since.
Originally, Dean hoped to spring forth, Carter-like, as the surprise finisher in Iowa, building his campaign from there. Instead, with his emergence last summer as the surprise Democratic pacesetter -- thanks in good part to his vigorous stance against the war in Iraq -- Dean became a target.
The attacks -- on Medicare, trade, race relations and taxes -- intensified in the last few weeks, with Gephardt leading the assault on TV and in a series of progressively harsher stump speeches.
As a result of the increasingly negative tone, both candidates were dragged down, turning what appeared to be a two-way race into a four-man fight that confounded pollsters and kept experts guessing right up until the first caucuses convened.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
*--* Iowa caucus NH primary Party Elected
winners winners nominees president 1972 G. McGovern (D) E. Muskie (D) G. McGovern (D) R. Nixon (R) R. Nixon (R) R. Nixon (R) R. Nixon (R) 1976 J. Carter (D) J. Carter (D) J. Carter (D) J. Carter (D) G. Ford (R) G. Ford (R) G. Ford (R) 1980 J. Carter (D) J. Carter (D) J. Carter (D) R. Reagan (R) G. Bush (R) R. Reagan (R) R. Reagan (R) 1984 W. Mondale (D) G. Hart (D) W. Mondale (D) R. Reagan (R) R. Reagan (R) R. Reagan (R) R. Reagan (R) 1988 R. Gephart(D) M. Dukakis (D) M. Dukakis (D) G. Bush (R) R. Dole (R) G. Bush (R) G. Bush (R) 1992 T. B.Clinton (D) B. Clinton (D) Harkin(D)Tsongas (D) R. Dole (R) G. Bush (R) G. Bush (R) 1996 B. Clinton(D) B. Clinton (D) B.Clinton (D) B. Clinton (D) R. Dole (R) P. Buchanan (R) R. Dole (R) 2000 A. Gore(D) A. Gore (D) A. Gore (D) G.W. Bush (R) G.W. Bush (R) B. J. McCain (R) G.W. Bush (R)
Times staff writers Nick Anderson, James Gerstenzang, Matea Gold, Maria L. La Ganga and Scott Martelle contributed to this report.