DES MOINESA hoarse voice didn't keep John Kerry from capturing first place in last night's Iowa caucuses, uncapping a race for the Democratic presidential nomination that included a last minute surge by Senator John Edwards and the sudden dropout of Richard Gephardt.
The results also indicated a continuated downslide in popularity for Howard Dean, who previously enjoyed a lead in Iowa polls and received backing from Al Gore, Carol Moseley Braun, and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.
Kerry, who held a slight advantage in polls entering the competition, drew 38 percent of the vote while Edwards, who witnessed a late surge in public support, came in second with 33 percentconsidered an especially strong showing for the one-term senator from North Carolina.
"Together we can take on George Bush and the special interests and literally give America back its future and its soul," Kerry said in his victory speech after canceling his morning events to soothe his throat, raw from relentless campaigning. "Last night the Patriots won and tonight this New Englander won and you've sent me on the way to the Super Bowl."
With Dean drawing 18 percent of the vote, pundits here immediately pounced on the candidate, portraying the Kerry victory as an Iowan affirmation that the Massachusetts senator would be more "electable" against Bush. This sentiment echoes the message printed on pins worn by Kerry supporters in recent days: "I dated Dean but I married Kerry."
While exact numbers were not given, over 100,000 were estimated to have attended the caucusesa dramatic increase from the 61,000 who visited the almost 2,000 caucus locations four years ago. Some 600,000 registered Iowan Democrats are eligible to participate in the caucuses.
The question of who would get "the three tickets out of Iowa" became clearpainfully so for Gephardt, who drew only 11 percent of the vote.
Realizing that he would have a slim chance of winning the nomination, Gephardt strongly implied his intention not to continue his candidacy in a speech given after the results were announced.
Edwards, who as of last July sat in seventh place with two percent of the Democratic voters, took the second place finish in stride. "No one predicted this," Edwards said. "[But] it's not an accident. It's a direct result of people responding to this message of hope and optimism. I think that will propel us into New Hampshire and subsequent states."