Barack Obama took to the stage of the Hy-vee Hall in Des Moines just after 10 p.m. to celebrate an Iowa caucus victory that he termed a “defining moment of history.”
Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle and the couple’s two young daughters, was met with a roar of acclaim as he took the stage to the strains of U2’s “City of Blinding Lights.”
Obama received around 37 per cent support in the caucuses, while at the moment his two main rivals, Senator Hillary Clinton and former senator John Edwards are locked in a dogfight for second place. With only a handful of precincts left to report, Edwards and Clinton are both running at about 30 per cent support, with the former First Lady fractionally behind.
Clinton’s concession speech, shown here on large video screens broadcasting CNN and MSNBC, was drowned out by a group of yellow-clad drummers who performed, accompanied by dancers and xylophone players, at a deafening volume.
The result bore out the increasing confidence Obama’s aides had displayed in recent days—and the findings of pollsters who had divined a seepage of support away from Clinton.
“You have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do,” Obama told a crowd numbering several thousand. He was speaking in the same convention center where, on December 8, he had been joined by Oprah Winfrey for the first of a series of appearances on the stump by the talkshow host.
“We are choosing hope over fear and sending a powerful message that change is coming for America,” Obama added.
Obama had made increasingly pointed jabs at Clinton and Edwards in the days leading up to the caucuses, but he barely made even implicit reference to them in his victory speech.
Instead, he immediately sought to cast himself as the likely Democratic candidate in the general election, and the future president.
“I’ll be a president… who will free this nation from the tyranny of oil,” and end the war in Iraq, he said.
And, reprising his famous 2004 Democratic convention speech, he added, “We are not a collection of red states and blue states, we are the United States of America.”
Obama’s victory finally put to rest the canard that he was set to become another Howard Dean — that is, that he would prove unable to translate the intense enthusiasm he generates among supporters on the campaign trail into a winning performance on Caucus Night.
The first signs that he would win tonight’s contest came with reports around 8 p.m. that turnout had been unusually high. That factor suggested both that MObama’s appeal had indeed inspired those who had previously been uninterested in politics and that his campaign had at least matched Clinton’s famously vigorous operation in its ability to get supporters to the caucuses.
A short time later, senior Obama aide David Axelrod told reporters it was a “great day” for his campaign and that the turnout was “fabulous”.
While he was speaking, the video screens showed that CNN had projected Obama as the winner, prompting cheers and chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole,” and “Obama, Obama” from supporters streaming into the arena.
Turnout at Democratic caucuses tonight was estimated to be significantly in excess of the 124,000 people who turned out four years ago — a level of participation that was, itself, a record. Axelrod asserted that total turnout would rise above 200,000 – a prediction that appears to have been borne out.
Obama paid tribute to the efforts of his “organizers and precinct captains” in his speech, also invoking his own experience as a community organizer in Chicago.
Tonight’s result gives him a huge boost going into New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday.
Obama’s speech focused on that next contest, asserting that the voters here had delivered “the message we can now carry to New Hampshire.”
It is to the Granite State that the attention of the media and all the surviving campaigns will now turn.
“Years from now,” Obama told his Iowa supporters, they would be able to look back and say “this was the moment when it all began.”