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Sen. John Kerry surged to victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, handily defeating frontrunner Howard Dean in a triumph that will likely breathe new life into the Massachusetts Democrat’s once-sagging presidential campaign.
Kerry, D-Mass., who had trailed Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean by over 25 points in some polls a month ago, led by slight margins in the polls all week leading up to the Monday vote. He beat Dean by a commanding 20 points, 38 to 18 percent, in Iowa.
Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who had also shot up in the polls just before the caucus, surprised pundits with his strong second-place showing, netting 32 percent of Iowa’s vote.
For Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., a weak fourth-place finish of 11 percent marked the end of his campaign. Gephardt cancelled a planned to trip to New Hampshire Monday night and announced yesterday that he would drop out of the race.
The defeat was a stunning setback for Dean, who up until a few weeks ago had enjoyed a comfortable lead in Iowa. Gephardt had been projected to finish a clear second. But by Monday, Kerry and Edwards had moved into a statistical tie with Dean and Gephardt, making this one of the most exciting and important caucuses in years.
Although the Iowa caucuses are typically written off as somewhat irrelevant to the national primary competition, the surprisingly strong finishes of Kerry and Edwards there Monday throws a national primary race once written off as a two-way clash between Dean and retired Gen. Wesley Clark back into play.
“It’s a four-horse race right now,” said Institute of Politics Director Daniel R. Glickman. “It’s not going to be decided by Tuesday night.”
As the spotlight shifts to New Hampshire, site of the first major primary vote next Tuesday, the momentum Kerry gained with his Iowa victory has already given him a bounce. Although he had trailed Dean by 30 percent at one point, the latest Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll shows Dean leading Kerry 25 to 23 percent, with a four percent margin of error.
Glickman said both Kerry and Edwards would reap benefits from their strong finishes in Iowa, but he cautioned that New Hampshire remains up for grabs.
“This is a very, very big victory for both Kerry and Edwards,” Glickman said. “It propels them in publicity and money, much needed money. But there’s an eternity between now and next Tuesday.”
He said Kerry and Edwards had carried the day largely by convincing Iowans that they had the best chance of beating President Bush in November.
“I think the voters are looking first and foremost to electability, and the voters of Iowa at least thought Kerry and Edwards were the most electable,” Glickman said.
To get his campaign back on track, Dean has to project a more likeable and positive image, Glickman said.
“Right now, Dean has to restore a sense of likeablility and stability to his campaign,” he said. “Particularly his performance last night—it didn’t reinforce stability....He needs to show, ‘He’s going to be a sensible, strong, stable president, with a little sense of humor as well.’”
Glickman added that negative campaigning had not served Dean and Gephardt well on Monday because it reflected a focus on the past rather than a focus on the future.
In Monday’s caucus, each voter selected a candidate by gathering in that candidate’s corner. Then, candidates that garnered less than 15 percent were knocked out and their voters were allowed to choose another candidate. The caucuses took place in town halls, school gyms and even private homes.
Iowa’s caucus format may have added percentage points to Kerry and Edwards’ decisive victories. But Glickman said he thought that although the numbers may have been slightly inflated by the caucus system, Kerry and Edwards’ major leads were significant and close to what they would have garnered in a standard election.
The College Crowd
Back at Harvard, student politicos said the surprise finish in Iowa has energized undergraduates and will drive greater participation in New Hampshire campaigning.
Harvard College Democrats President Andrew J. Frank ’05 said turnout among college students in Iowa was higher than in previous years.
The youth turnout, he said, validated candidates’ focus on college voters and shows that students can be wooed effectively.
“Young people are starting to get involved in the process, more so than in the past,” he said. “I think the candidates are right to court that block.”
Nicholas F.B. Smyth ’05, president of Harvard Students for Kerry, said the caucuses had mobilized support for Kerry on campus.
“It was great to see the people who are switching over to Kerry, and the people who have been supporting Kerry all along, but kind of got disheartened by the New Hampshire polls and the third place [polling in Iowa],” Smyth said. “Now we have tons of people excited to go up to New Hampshire this week and over the weekend.”
Brittani S. Head ’06, president of Harvard Students for Edwards, said Monday’s results were giving Edwards a similar boost among undergraduates.
“We have a bunch of people throughout the year who said, ‘We like Edwards but he’s not polling high enough,’” Head said. “There’s definitely been a tangible effect on enthusiasm for the campaign on willingness to get involved.”
Even Harvard Students for Lieberman saw the benefit of Iowa—a reminder that big comebacks are possible. Lieberman, who had opted not to campaign in Iowa, currently trails by 18 points in New Hampshire.
“Kerry’s unexpected victory has totally turned things around,” said Rebecca E. Rubins ’05. “It showed more than anything that everything is totally variable.”
Frank said the College Democrats will send at least 50 students to campaign in New Hampshire over the next week.
“People are really excited,” he said. “This is the most interesting presidential primary that there has been in a long, long time and there may be in a long, long time—now or never.”
—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at email@example.com.
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