Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has won the Iowa caucuses - the first major event of the 2004 presidential election year. Finishing in second place was North Carolina Senator John Edwards, with former frontrunner Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, coming in a distant third.
There was jubilation at the campaign headquarters for John Kerry here in Des Moines, as the senator, his voice a bit raw from weeks of public speaking, thanked Iowa supporters.
"Iowa, I love you. I love you," he said. "Thank you, Iowa, for making me the "comeback Kerry.""
It was a stunning victory for the Massachusetts senator, who only a month ago seemed to be lagging behind in his campaign. By concentrating on Iowa for the past few weeks, Senator Kerry and his team moved up in the polls at the same time that Howard Dean began dropping in surveys of voters preferences.
In his appearance before supporters after the Iowa results were in, Mr. Dean, who was backed by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, made it clear that he will fight on. "Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin, we are going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico," he said. "We are going to California and Texas and New York, and we are going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan and then we are going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House, yeah!"
Iowa also produced a boost for Senator Edwards who is seen by many voters as a fresh face on the political scene. He was credited by many voters here for having run a positive campaign, refraining from attacks on his opponents. The senator emphasized this when he came before supporters, here, after the results were announced. "The people of Iowa tonight confirmed that they believe in a positive, uplifting vision to change America," he said.
The biggest loser in Iowa was Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, who won the caucuses here in the 1988 campaign and had a strong organization in the state, especially among labor unions. In his appearance before supporters, Mr. Gephardt said he would support the Democratic party's nominee and do everything he could to help beat President Bush in November. "My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end," said Mr. Gephardt. "We will reclaim the White House in 2004 because we have to."
From here, the contest moves on to New Hampshire, which holds its primary on January 27. There, two candidates who decided to skip Iowa will also be competing for vote retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman.
New Hampshire will be followed by primaries in many other states, with the process ending at the Democratic convention in Boston in July. Republicans, meanwhile, are not sitting idle. Although they already have a candidate in President Bush, their fundraising efforts go forward and polls indicate that any Democratic nominee would face a tough race against the incumbent.