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.