Barack Obama wins the Democratic Caucus in Iowa. And the 2008 presidential election has taken a dramatic turn, for the better.
First, Obama's victory was surprisingly comfortable, despite polls showing a tight three-way race. The outcome legitimizes his candidacy, from a novel, flavor of the day, to perhaps the front-runner. He is already locked in a close race with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Now, buoyed by this resounding win, he just might run away with the Granite State on Jan. 9, too.
Second, this is very bad news for Hillary. Armed with the largest war chest, the biggest organization and unrivaled name recognition, she managed only a third-place finish, behind both Obama and John Edwards. This speaks to her vulnerability as a national candidate. And if she is beaten by Obama again in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign will be on full crisis mode.
While Edwards vows to fight another day, this is now a two-person race, albeit a new race, with the air of invincibility clearly deserting Clinton. Now, Hillary should not be counted out because of her prolific fund-raising ability and the fact that she is still backed by the Democratic establishment. But it would not be a surprise to see some supporters switching camps after the Iowa debacle.
For Obama, what an opportunity. He's taken Clinton's best shots and has beaten her soundly. More important, now he'll be viewed as someone who can win. Black voters, previously on the fence about Obama because of his perceived electability (or the lack thereof), might now throw their support behind him. After all, Iowa, as one pundit quipped, is as white as the North Pole.
As for the Republicans, the Iowa Caucus was not encouraging. First, it decided very little other than that Mike Huckabee will have to be taken seriously. Second, Huckabee's runaway victory will have to be viewed as a major concern. Huckabee is not the best candidate the GOP has to offer, but his ascendancy demonstrates that the party is fractious and in disarray.
There are major issues about Huckabee's bona fides as a fiscal conservative -- not to mention his stance on immigration and the death penalty. And his religiosity, while helpful in Iowa, will be a liability should he qualifies for the general election. He has limited appeal as a national candidate, and hardly will be someone who can mobilize enough voters in what will be an uphill battle for the GOP.
Mitt Romney's second-place finish has to be seen as a major disappointment. Despite outspending all his foes with a formidable organization, Romney lost to a heretofore fringe candidate. And he's got bigger dogs to fight down the road, with Rudy Giuliani choosing to sit out Iowa in an unconventional gamble.
While it's unlikely for GOP candidates to be officially eliminated after New Hampshire, the field will be whittled down soon enough. John McCain and Fred Thompson are both running campaigns on life support. And if Giuliani can't hit a home run in the south -- Florida in particular -- the GOP race will be a two-man competition between Huckabee and Romney.
Don't look now, but who has an electability problem?