Kerry comes back for Iowa win
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
DES MOINES, Iowa -- John Kerry and John Edwards rode 11th-hour surges to a one-two finish in Iowa's kickoff presidential caucuses Monday, dealing a stunning blow to favorite Howard Dean. Kerry's comeback blew the nomination fight wide open, setting the stage for a free-for-all in New Hampshire's follow-up primary.
Dean finished third, stripped of his front-runner's mantle but still defiant -- "We will not give up," he told backers. Rep. Dick Gephardt finished a weak fourth and planned to end his 33-year political career by pulling out of the race.
His campaign given up for dead just weeks ago, Kerry predicted another comeback in New Hampshire's Jan. 27 primary.
"As I've said in New Hampshire and here, I'm a fighter," the Massachusetts lawmaker told The Associated Press. "I've come from behind before and I'm going to take the same fight that I've been making here to New Hampshire."
Edwards, 50, also claimed momentum.
"This campaign, this cause, this movement is about bringing real change to America," Edwards told supporters. "You and I can build an America and an image of America that we will be proud of."
Just two weeks ago, before the Iowa race turned testy and tumultuous, Dean and Gephardt sat atop the field in Iowa, with Dean leading in New Hampshire and national polls. Kerry and Edwards turned that on its head, closing their campaigns with positive, forward-looking messages while Dean and Gephardt bickered over past votes and quotes.
"My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end," Gephardt said in a post-caucus speech that sounded like a political farewell.
Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses in 1988, when he first ran for the White House, and aides had said openly that he needed to match that showing this year if he were to remain in the race.
His shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, his voice rising to a shout, Dean tried hard to reset expectations.
"If you would have told us a year ago we would come third in Iowa, we would have taken anything for that," he yelled and later ticked off the primary states beyond New Hampshire. Dean said he called Kerry and Edwards and told them, "I'll see you around the corner, around the block, starting tomorrow."
But the new day will bring new challenges for Dean. His vaunted Internet-driven organization, which helped him raise more than $40 million and dispatch 3,500 volunteers to Iowa, didn't deliver. His anti-war, antiestablishment message didn't resonate. His rivals -- Kerry and Edwards here and Wesley Clark in New Hampshire -- didn't back down.
Indeed, Clark rose in New Hampshire polls while Dean slipped in Iowa. Now, the retired four-star Army general has turned his sights on Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
"He's got military background, but nobody in this race has got the kind of background I've got," Clark said. "It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that. I respect that. ... but I've got the military experience at the top as well as at the bottom."
Kerry aides predicted a negative New Hampshire race, and said they were prepared to fight blow-for-blow. The senator himself borrowed a 12-year-old line from Bill Clinton, who survived scandal to finish second in New Hampshire and pronounced himself the "Comeback Kid."
"I want to thank Iowa for making me the 'comeback Kerry,'" the victor said.
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Kerry had 37.6 percent, Edwards 31.8 percent, Dean 18 percent and Gephardt 10.6 percent. Long-shot candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio was at 1.3 percent.
An AP analysis of the Iowa delegate count showed Kerry with 12 delegates, Edwards with 10 delegates and Dean with five, with 18 delegates still to be allocated.
Late-deciding voters turned away from mistake-prone Dean, and his signature position in opposition to the Iraq war did not seem to resonate. The anti-war vote split instead of rallying around Dean, an Associated Press survey found.
More than a third picked a candidate in the last week and Kerry got the support of four in 10 of the late deciders. His last-minute surge overrode the vaunted political organizations of Dean and Gephardt. Aides to Kerry and Edwards said their positive messages contrasted with Dean and Gephardt.
"I hate mudslinging," said Theresa Stradala, who voted for Edwards.
Stung by criticism of his record on race relations, Medicare and trade, Dean said a week ago he was tired of being the party's "pin cushion," and suddenly looked weak to voters drawn to his blustery image.
Gephardt gambled a few days later with an ad highly critical of Dean. The front-runner's approval rating dropped. Voters who started second-guessing Dean drifted to Edwards or Kerry. Suddenly, it was a four-way race.
Dean said the attacks took their toll. "We were way ahead, and when you're way ahead people decide you're the target," he told CNN. "And we were pretty much the target of everybody for a long time."
A survey of caucus-goers, done for The Associated Press and the networks to measure initial preferences, showed Kerry got an especially strong boost from voters who said the "right experience" was the most important candidate quality -- a theme the four-term Massachusetts senator pounded home in the race's final days.
The entrance poll showed Kerry reaping the benefits of Gephardt's poorer-than-expected showing. Of the people who came to the caucuses backing the Missouri lawmaker -- about 16 percent of the total -- 24 percent named Kerry as their second choice and 24 percent named Edwards.
Dean, a polarizing figure prone to missteps and controversy in the race's final days, was the second choice of just 5 percent.
Edwards gained from a deal he struck with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who asked his supporters to back the North Carolina senator if they didn't meet voting threshholds in any of the state's 1993 precincts.
The down-to-the-wire campaign helped push turnout toward a record, as Iowans poured into schools, libraries, living rooms and other precincts.
Kerry won because he did well among older voters, men, independents and moderates, while he was competitive among other groups like liberals, who made up six in 10 voters, and those who were strongly disapproved of the war with Iraq.