| Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts celebrates at the victory party in Des Moines, Iowa. (Reuters)
Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 20 (Reuters): Democrat John Kerry capped a stunning political comeback yesterday with a victory in Iowa’s caucuses that dramatically reshaped the Democratic presidential race and ended Richard Gephardt’s White House quest.
In the first test on the road to find a challenger to President George W. Bush, Kerry won 38 per cent and John Edwards scored a surprise second-place finish with 32 per cent of the vote. One-time favorites Howard Dean, the front-runner for months, and Gephardt trailed badly with 18 and 11 per cent, respectively.
The win was a huge momentum boost for Kerry, the four-term senator from Massachusetts and decorated Vietnam War veteran who weeks ago was given up for dead but roared back into the race with an emphasis on his foreign policy and war experience and his ability to beat Bush.
“We came from behind and we came for the fight and now I have a special message for the special interests that have a home in the Bush White House: We’re coming, you’re going, and don't let the door hit you on the way out,” Kerry told roaring supporters in Des Moines.
Kerry and Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, benefited from perceptions that they offered the best chance to beat Bush, which television network caucus polls showed was a crucial issue for Iowa Democrats.
The result turned the Democratic race upside down, sending Kerry and Edwards roaring into the next primary state of New Hampshire and dealing harsh blows to Dean and Gephardt, one-time favorites who were left behind by their rivals’ surge.
Gephardt, the congressman from neighboring Missouri and one-time leader in Iowa polls, cancelled his planned flight to New Hampshire and dropped out.
“My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end,” said an emotional Gephardt, who won Iowa during his first presidential bid in 1988 and had said a loss here would end his campaign.
The loss by Dean, the former Vermont governor who had been considered the party’s front-runner based on big fund raising and a series of major endorsements, turned what was shaping up to be a quick Dean victory into a dogfight.
“We will not give up,” a fiery Dean said, letting out a whoop as he recited the states with later primaries that he promised to compete in. “We have just begun to fight.” At his side was Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, whose recent endorsement did little to help Dean.
Edwards, the senator from North Carolina who also was mired in the single digits in polls just weeks ago, vastly exceeded expectations in Iowa and described his campaign as “the little engine that could.”