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Iowa Republican Caucus Selects Huckabee

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Iowa Republicans also picked a relative newcomer to the national stage - former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He beat former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by a comfortable nine points. Evangelical Christians made a lot of the difference for Huckabee, who was a Southern Baptist minister before he turned to politics.

And we have more this morning from NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE: About 60 percent of Republican caucus goers last night were evangelical Christians. They overwhelmingly supported Mike Huckabee, and a few earlier rivals at his victory party last night decided to support him in another way.

Ms. REBECCA SWEETHOOD(ph) (Mike Huckabee Campaign Volunteer): We pray that you would lift Mike Huckabee upward as…

JAFFE: Rebecca Sweethood, a volunteer who had traveled from Arkansas, led a small prayer circle.

Ms. SWEETHOOD: Lord, we pray that he would not be ashamed to be known as the pastor. And that is exactly what a leader of a nation should be, Lord. One who is a shepherd over sheep, God; one who seeks the light…

JAFFE: But when Huckabee addressed his jubilant supporters, his talk was mostly about transcendence of a different kind.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): Tonight, what we have seen is a new day in American politics. A new day is needed in American politics, just like a new day is needed in American government. And tonight, it starts here in Iowa, but it doesn't end here.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. HUCKABEE: It goes all the way through the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue one year from now.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

JAFFE: Huckabee was vastly outspent by Mitt Romney who poured about $17 million of his own fortune into his campaign. Huckabee also withstood millions of dollars of negative ads backed by a Washington-based anti-tax group. But these caucuses said Huckabee proved that people are more important than the purse. Iowans, he said, want change. They want a leader who can bring Americans together. But that doesn't mean, he said, that we will compromise our deep convictions.

Mr. HUCKABEE: We carry those convictions not so that we can somehow push back the others, but so we can bring along the others and bring this country to its greatest days ever because I'm still one who believes that the greatest generation doesn't have to be the ones behind us. The greatest generation can be those who have yet to even be born. And that's what we're going to save.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

JAFFE: As he moves on to New Hampshire, Huckabee is aware that many voters there do not share his deep convictions. He's been running third or fourth in the polls, while Mitt Romney and John McCain vie for first.

But Chip Saltsman, the national chair of Huckabee's campaign, said voters in New Hampshire and around the country will soon see another side of the candidate.

Mr. CHIP SALTSMAN (National Chair, Mike Huckabee's Campaign): I think we've got a lot of support with the fiscal conservatives out there, and I hope that we'll get a chance to talk about our economic record in Arkansas where with 10 and a half years, he's had more executive experience than anybody else who's running for president, Republican or Democrat.

JAFFE: Part of Mitt Romney's executive experience was his leadership of the 2002 Olympics, which last night gave him a way to cast his defeat in the best light possible.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): Well, we won the silver.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

JAFFE: Even without the gold, Romney was still campaigning. He said Americans were frustrated that the system in Washington was broken.

Mr. ROMNEY: How come Washington can't help us become energy-independent? How come Washington can't get health insurance for all of our citizens without making it Hillary care or socialized medicine? Washington is broken and we're going to change that.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

JAFFE: And Romney did come in ahead of John McCain and Fred Thompson, who just about tied for a distant third place. But after Romney's defeat, John McCain was sounding like he had little to fear from him at a press conference last night in New Hampshire.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): We can feel the momentum that the same kind of momentum we felt in 2000. I'm very confident with a strong positive finish here that we're going to win here in New Hampshire and go on to Michigan and South Carolina.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

JAFFE: Finishing in a distant sixth place last night was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, once seen as the national front-runner. Then again, Iowa never played a role in his strategy. And last night, his campaign released a statement, saying that they still believe their path to the nomination runs through the many delegate-rich states that don't vote until February 5th.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Des Moines.

INSKEEP: You can get a look at upcoming primaries by going to this map at I'm looking at here at npr.org. Move the cursor across the map of the United States; learn about the upcoming states, dates and what's at stake. You can find it at npr.org/elections. 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.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."
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