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Iowa Caucuses Shift Political Landscape


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Some familiar figures are going to have to get used to some unfamiliar roles, thanks to the Iowa caucuses.

Hillary Clinton, the candidate who positioned herself as the inevitable nominee of the Democrats, now has to make a strong showing in New Hampshire four days from now. And Barack Obama, who defeated both Clinton and John Edwards in Iowa, must take on the role of full-fledged front-runner.

Joining us now to talk about the shifting sand in both parties is NPR's news analyst Juan Williams.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And, Juan, last night Barack Obama told a victory rally they said this day would never come. He did - he pulled off a win. What does it mean for the Democrats?

WILLIAMS: Well, it redefines the whole contest, Renee. I think that, you know, the defining moment is - he kept saying that last night in his victory speech -really was the result of turnout. You saw a record turnout here in Iowa -220,000 Democrats. Previous record had been like 124. No one thought that it was possible to get that many people out on a cold night to caucus. You know, you have to show up early and stay there for several hours in order to get it done.

Obama won among young people, single people, urban people, upper-income people, and among liberal Democrats. And it really was his ability - the organization's ability to get people to the caucuses. The level of enthusiasm here for him was unprecedented. So he clearly was speaking to vision and getting people to identify with him in a way that was really uncanny.

MONTAGNE: Did the people around Hillary Clinton see this coming?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I saw President Clinton a couple times, and then of course the people who were running Senator Clinton's campaign, and you know, they had the sense that - they started talking about how President Clinton hadn't won before Georgia. He lost here, lost in New Hampshire, when he went on to win the presidency. And I think the whole body language and the attitude was this - we're in it for the long haul. We have the money. We have the organization. So they seem to be talking in a way that was preparing them for the idea that they were going to lose here.

MONTAGNE: And what does that the fact that Barack Obama won in a nearly all-white state - and much has been made of this - what does it say about the role race is playing in this campaign?

WILLIAMS: Well, race is an absolutely essential factor here because we've never had in the United States a leading nominee of the party be an African-American. If you go back over time, people like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jackson would have done the best among them, but he only won, you know, I think it was four or five states in terms of primaries.

Here you have right from the top Barack Obama putting in an impressive performance and forcing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, his two primary rivals, to react to his race without doing so explicitly. And the voters in this 95 percent white state, as you point out, saying, you know what, we can embrace this African-American in a way that's never been done before. So it's going to be a key part of what comes from now - comes from now on.

MONTAGNE: And on the Republican side, Juan, Mike Huckabee won a decisive victory over Mitt Romney. He - Romney - invested loads of time and money in the state. What made the difference?

WILLIAMS: Again, it was turnout, a record turnout on the Republican side. Evangelicals in particular strongly favored Huckabee over Romney. And you know, if you look, just about in every category, Renee, what you see is that Huckabee was the victor, you know, people - with the exception of people who made over a hundred thousand dollars, who went for Romney.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very briefly, the race moves to New Hampshire with a different narrative.

WILLIAMS: It sure does. On the Republican side, it's going to be about John McCain, who was really a sort of second-level victory here because of Romney's loss; and on the Democratic side, I think Barack Obama's momentum, can he maintain it, and the scrutiny that he will be under from now on.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
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