DES MOINES - Barack Obama's clear victory in last night's Iowa caucuses does not assure him an easy path to the Democratic presidential nomination, but the shortened window before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary means that he can expect a disproportionate boost, while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have little time to recover.
Clinton, like Obama, has the money and national organization to stay in the race through Feb. 5, when almost half the states go to the polls, and she gave every indication last night that she will. But she still faces the real possibility that Iowa will give Obama a huge burst of momentum. That will be even more of a concern given that it appeared last night that she came in third.
With all precincts reporting, Obama had 38 percent, while Edwards had 30 percent and Clinton 29 percent.
With an Obama win in Iowa, "there's the potential for a domino effect with independent voters" in New Hampshire, said Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst in New Hampshire, speaking before the results were in.
But if Clinton ends up in third place, "that's really problematic," he continued. "All those people on the fence with Obama would be willing to jump at that point."
Coming so far short of Obama, it's difficult to see how Edwards can raise the money he needs to compete seriously for the nomination, some analysts said.
He is far behind Obama and Clinton in fund-raising and doesn't have a strong national organization.
Three other Democratic candidates had been hoping desperately for a strong fourth-place finish to give them some chance of catching on in other states. But Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd did so poorly that they abandoned their campaigns.
Dodd, who moved his family to Iowa for the last weeks of the campaign, played up his experience in the US Senate and strongly criticized the Bush administration over what he called an assault on civil liberties during the war on terror.
Biden tried to highlight his foreign policy expertise, especially after the assassination last week of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.
But neither veteran senator's campaign ever caught fire, overshadowed by the better-financed campaigns of Obama and Clinton in particular.
Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico did only a little better last night, but claimed success. "We made it to the final four," Richardson said in a statement. "My staff and volunteers worked their hearts out to get us here. Now we are going to take the fight to New Hampshire."
The second group of candidates was hamstrung by state Democratic Party rules that require a candidate to have at least 15 percent support at a given precinct to win any delegates there.
Supporters of candidates not reaching that threshold can then choose a second candidate, and Obama appeared to benefit from that.
This week, Dennis Kucinich instructed his backers to support Obama in precincts where he won't win any delegates.
The Richardson and Obama campaigns apparently made a similar deal yesterday, first reported by The
The leading candidates also all looked forward to New Hampshire.
Obama declared that voters are "choosing hope over fear" and that "our time for change has come."
"They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to come together for a common purpose," he told screaming supporters. "But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, 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," he said. "You have done what America can do in this new year."
Clinton said the record turnout among Democrats showed that the country is ready for change and a Democratic president.
"We're going to take this enthusiasm and go straight to New Hampshire," she told cheering supporters. "We've always planned to run a national campaign all the way through the early contests."
Edwards claimed second place, and said Iowa voters responded to his message of standing up against corporate greed and for the middle class.
He told supporters that "the status quo lost and change won. And now we move on. We move on from Iowa to New Hampshire."
Iowa was particularly important to Obama because it will help him win votes in New Hampshire from independents, said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Clinton is leading in most New Hampshire polls, and spokesman Doug Hattaway said she should do well because "a broader sample of people" participate in the primary compared with the caucuses, which he said are attended by "an activist core."
Ansolabehere argued that Iowa and New Hampshire are less crucial to Clinton because she is polling so well in bigger Feb. 5 states such as California and New York.
And what about the fourth ticket out of Iowa? Ansolabehere said it really didn't matter.
"They don't have the resources, they don't have the organization, they don't have the popular appeal," he said. "So I just don't see any of them being credible right now."
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