With next week's New Hampshire primary already looming over Sen. Barack Obama's win in the Iowa caucus, there may not have been time for a lengthy victory lap or champagne toast, but his supporters still found plenty to cheer about.
"They said this day would never come," Obama said, over deafening cheers. "They said our sights were set too high; this country was too divided, too disillusioned to come together around this purpose. You have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."
"You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days," Obama continued. "You have done what America can do in this new year: 2008."
Emphasizing the themes of change and hope that seemed to resonate with the Iowa electorate, Obama said, "We are choosing hope over fear. We're choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America."
Obama came away from the Iowa Democratic caucus with 38 percent of the vote. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards edged narrowly into second place over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Edwards held 30 percent of the vote; Clinton 29 percent.
Biden, Dodd Leave Presidential Race
Elsewhere in the Democratic pool, as the caucus results came in, presidential aspirations dwindled.
Both Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden abandoned their presidential bids in Iowa, each registering less than 1 percent of the vote.
From the beginning, Dodd's campaign was plagued by low numbers in the national polls, and his campaign struggled to get attention, hoping for the kind of jump that Republican caucus winner former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee received weeks ago.
In his concession speech, Dodd congratulated Iowa's Democratic party, saying it "sent a clear message that this party is united in our belief that our nation needs change to restore our security, our middle class and all that makes this country great."
Iowa's Democratic Party emerged a caucus-night winner, enjoying a record turnout with 236,000 attendees, the highest number since 1988 when 125,000 turned out for the Democratic caucuses.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Republican caucus beating out former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a two-man race for the Republican top spot in Iowa.
Clinton Looks Ahead to New Hampshire
In Des Moines, Clinton revelers who started the night with celebration on their minds stood by with glum expressions as the Democratic caucus was called for Obama.
Flanked by her husband, daughter, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, in a speech following the announcement Clinton looked ahead to New Hampshire and congratulated Obama and Edwards, hailing the caucus results as "a great night for Democrats."
"Together we have presented the case for change and made it absolutely clear that America needs a new beginning," Clinton said.
Edwards' senior campaign adviser Joe Trippi said that the results were a "repudiation" of Clinton and proved this is a race about change.
The Politics of Change
In the Democratic race, "change" played a huge factor — 51 percent said the most important attribute for them in a candidate is one who can bring needed change — more than twice the size of the nearest group, and Obama won them by 2-1, with 51 percent support in this group to 20 percent for Edwards, and 19 percent for Clinton, according to an ABC News exit poll analysis.
Surprisingly, Clinton did not lead among women, who accounted for 57 percent of the caucus-goers. Obama beat Clinton among women, 35 percent to 30 percent. (Men went for Obama 35 percent, Edwards 24 percent, Clinton 23 percent.)
Also at play was a vast generation gap among Democrats in Iowa, with younger voters very broadly supporting Obama while Clinton did best by far among older Americans, who accounted for a third of the Democratic caucus-goers.
Over the last year in Iowa leading up to today's caucus, Obama's hope-infused rhetoric of a political fresh start went head-to-head with Clinton's message, built on a foundation of strength, experience and electability. The two themes have been at loggerheads among Democratic voters in the Hawkeye State; though increasingly experience and electability gave way to idea of change and a new direction.
The Rules of Engagement
After more than 12 months on the ground and millions of campaign dollars raised and spent, Iowa's Democratic ending ultimately was in the hands of state voters.
Held in gyms, homes and classrooms across the 99 counties and 1,781 precincts of this Midwestern state, demonstrating presidential preference at the caucus began at 8 p.m. ET. Caucus-goers are physically moved to areas designated for the candidate they support and their strength in those groups counted.
Candidates must receive 15 percent support to be considered viable. If not, their supporters are required to withdraw from the nominating process or stand in another candidate's section. The rounds continue till every candidate has at least 15 percent support. Once that happens, the precinct officials multiply the number of delegates at stake by the number of people who stand with each candidate and report those numbers to the state Democratic Party.
The 15 percent viability cutoff is what distinguishes the state's Democratic caucus from that held by the GOP. The Republican process simply counts individual votes amassed by a party candidate across the state.