Obama Emerges Victorious in Iowa

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.

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