Jan 4 2008

In a huge vote for change, Iowa voters gave Senator Obama a surprising eight point victory in the first presidential event of this election year.

Equally surprising was a strong second place finish by John Edwards. Senator Hillary Clinton placed 9 points behind Obama. Both Obama and Edwards are strong proponents of change and if you combine their totals, an amazing 68% of caucus-goers voted against traditional politics in the Democratic Party. This is a significant and historic shift. 160pxobamabarack

Clearly, Obama is emerging as the candidate of a new generation of Democratic activists. Among those 25 years or younger, 70% of caucus-goers voted for Obama. Clinton was their fourth choice. Obama's message of hope, reconciliation and political change was overwhelmingly accepted by Iowans. He is the new frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination for president.

Edwards’ populist message also resonated. More than any other candidate, the former North Carolina Senator has staked out clear positions and policies on the tough issues of the day. He cultivated a devoted following who identify with his message. Given that his opponents vastly outspent him, Edwards’ second place finish is a notable success.

Conversely, the outcome was a significant set back for Clinton. Just months ago, the political pundits repeatedly told us that her nomination was a sure thing. While she is still in the race, the armor of inevitably around her candidacy has been destroyed. She must now compete in a real race for her political future.

What is amazing is that Senator Clinton has been an icon and a public figure in national Democratic politics for more than 16 years as First Lady and now as a senator. She is a known quantity, yet two-thirds of the Democratic voters in Iowa chose another candidate. There is no question that the voters viewed her as the candidate of the status quo and the DC establishment.

With all the noise, hoopla and campaigning, I think it is important to remind ourselves of several important lessons that have come out of this experience in Iowa.

First and foremost, for the first time in our history, among the three major Democratic contenders, one was an African-American and one was a woman. Neither were marginalized and both were treated as serious candidates. In the past, women or minorities who have run for president have been treated as fringe or symbolic candidates. Certainly, this is not the case this year. But it is also a huge victory when people can support other male candidates and not be viewed as sexist or racist for doing so. What a long way we have come.

I come from a time when African Americans and Caucasians were not allowed to sit together in the same restaurant and women were expected to stay at home or play supporting roles in public. These cultural hurdles have been thankfully smashed forever, for which owe a huge debt to Obama and Clinton. As a party that has worked hard to support diversity, especially since the 1968 Democratic National Convention, we can be proud of our progress over the years. Finally, we all know that the Shirley Chisom's and Bella Abzug's are smiling from heaven as they watch this election. These pioneers and so many others made it possible.

Second, I have to eat some of my own words on Iowa. This election has proven to me the importance of a smaller arena in which every candidate can make their case. Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Ron Paul and other have had ample opportunity to go from one side of the state to the other to introduce themselves to the voters of Iowa. By the end of the end of this process, almost every active Democrat in the country knows where the candidates stand because of the massive media coverage.

In addition, money has been kept reasonably out of the process. Clinton and Obama outspent John Edwards by at least three to one and yet he was able to get his message out. It doesn't take much to get on a bus and hit every county and small town in Iowa if one is willing to work at it. When we move to Tsunami Tuesday on February 5, finances will be a more important factor.

Finally, let’s not allow the press and commentators to determine who stays in and who gets out. Throughout this race, it was said that if Clinton placed first in Iowa it was all over for Obama and Edwards. At the same time, others said Clinton could survive a third place finish.

The fact is that anyone should stay in the race as long as they are willing to go through the grueling process, raise the necessary funds and feel they have a powerful message There will be only one nominee in the end, but there are many people who need a voice at the convention. So, let everyone be heard.

On to New Hampshire!