Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee have won the Iowa caucuses held in that Midwestern state on Thursday. Obama, who won the most votes in the Democratic Party caucuses, is the first person of African descent to have won the first-in-the-nation political contest. Huckabee, who won the Republican contest, came from near obscurity to defeat former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who had outspent him on campaign ads in the state. VOA's Greg Flakus was on hand to witness the process and has this report from Des Moines.
Iowa voters gave Senator Obama a strong start on the long road that could lead to the Democratic presidential nomination, with around 38 percent of the total projected vote. New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who spent much of last year trying to convince voters that she was the inevitable choice for the party, was left in a close race for second place with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
Coming before reporters after the preliminary results had been broadcast by major news organizations, Senator Obama focused on the message he will bring forward to the next contests.
"We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America," he said.
On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee won handily over his closest rival, Mitt Romney. Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, counted on strong support from evangelical Christians. Speaking to supporters, he thanked the people of Iowa.
"I was not sure that I would ever be able to love a state as I love my home state of Arkansas, but tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot," he said.
Turnout for the caucuses was much larger than in previous years, partly because of the tightly contested races in both parties. This is the first time in more than 50 years that neither party has a president or vice president in the running.
The caucus process here in Iowa was especially exciting on the Democratic side because of rules that allow participants to switch their allegiance if the candidate they came to support does not have enough votes to be considered viable.
At one caucus location in West Des Moines, Democrats came together in a school auditorium to select delegates from the 212th precinct. After an initial count, the event chairman declared that Senator Joe Biden was not viable and his supporters then moved over to other candidates.
Karen Kraemer, who had been a leader of the pro-Biden group, told VOA why she decided to support Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton.
"I think Hillary has too high negative feeling and I really like Obama because I think he is really going to bring the country together," she said. "I think Joe Biden would have done a great job and I really think his foreign policy is his strength and Obama did not have it, but maybe he will make Joe Biden his secretary of state if he does not make it out of Iowa."
Now that the Iowa contest is over, the candidates move on to the first primary in this election year, which will be held in the state of New Hampshire next Tuesday.