TOPICS: Obama, Huckabee shake up race

While political pros are still poring over the results, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee have clearly emerged from Thursday’s Iowa caucuses as the big winners in the 2008 race for the White House. Conversely, the big losers, included Sen. Hillary Clinton, who came in third in the Democratic contest, behind both Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who, despite outspending Huckabee six to one, received only a quarter of the Republican vote. Huckabee won 34 per cent.

All of the major candidates on Friday raced to New Hampshire, the scene of the next big primary test on Tuesday, with analysts predicting that a victory there by Obama, who only gained national office three years ago, would make him the odds-on favourite to defeat Clinton and win the Democratic nomination. “If he wins primary, Obama will become the prohibitive favorite for the nomination,” declared Fred Barnes, the chief political correspondent for the neo-conservative Weekly Standard. “For the past 36 years, a candidate, Republican or Democrat, who wins in Iowa and New Hampshire has always won the nomination.”

While Clinton was leading Obama in the New Hampshire public opinion polls before the Thursday’s caucus, the momentum created by his unexpectedly large victory in Iowa — and a particularly eloquent victory speech that got rave reviews from the mainstream media — could very well carry him past her, according to several analysts. Huckabee, a Baptist minister who hails from the same small Arkansas town of Hope as former President Bill Clinton, will have a harder row to hoe in New Hampshire, a far more secular state compared to Iowa.

Indeed, in the wake of Huckabee’s surprisingly strong victory, the Republican race appears as wide-open as ever, particularly because Sen. John McCain, who tied for third with former Sen. Fred Thompson in Iowa, is currently leading Romney in the New Hampshire race.

“If (McCain) wins (in New Hampshire), then Romney will be further damaged,” according to an editorial in the influential right-wing National Review Online on Friday. “With Huckabee unacceptable to a lot of economic and national security conservatives and Rudy Giuliani unacceptable to a lot of social conservatives, McCain could become the consensus conservativechoice.”

The Iowa caucuses, the first of a series of primary contests in all 50 states leading up to the formal crowning of the two major parties’ presidential candidates at their national conventions in late August and early September, mark the formal launch of the quadrennial race to the White House.

The most important day in the primary season — so-called “Super Tuesday”, when primaries are held in 24 states, including California, New York, Illinois, and several other giants — won’t take place until Feb. 5. But the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida can be critical, if not decisive, to the final outcome. — IPS