Democrat Barack Obama has put to rest the question of whether a black presidential candidate can win in white America.
His victory in 95 percent white Iowa proved that he could appeal across racial lines and even draw women away from Hillary Rodham Clinton despite her push for them to make her the first female president. Next he'll try to build on his record in New Hampshire, which is 96 percent white.
Obama did not appeal so openly to make history as the first black to occupy the Oval Office; he rarely mentioned that he was black.
"You've got to have hope if you are a black man named Obama running for the presidency of the United States of America," Obama said during a late-night campaign stop two days before the caucus. It was one of his rare mentions of what he had to overcome.
Political map redrawn
Obama's candidacy has been dogged by questions about whether he'd be electable against a Republican. Pressed on that during a campaign stop in New Hampshire over the summer, Obama said his race would be an asset because it would bring blacks to the polls in record numbers and give the Democrats victories in Southern states that have been voting Republican for decades.
"I'm probably the only candidate who, having won the nomination, can actually redraw the political map," Obama said at the time. "I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum. Young people's percentage of the vote goes up 25-30 percent. So we're in a position to put states in play that haven't been in play since LBJ."
Lyndon Baines Johnson ran for president in 1964 and won in a landslide. But since then the South has turned into a Republican stronghold.
Obama's prediction about black voter turnout can't be tested in Iowa or New Hampshire, but young voters did come to the polls in larger numbers.
Nearly a quarter of Democratic caucus-goers interviewed in the entrance poll were under 30 years old, a jump from 2004. Obama got 57 percent of the vote from the under-30 crowd, compared with just 14 percent for 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards and 11 percent for Clinton. Twenty-eight percent of Obama's support came from the under-30 set, according to a survey of voters entering the caucuses by The Associated Press and the television networks.
Obama also won the greatest percentages of independents, first-time caucus-goers, self-identified liberals and, most troubling for Clinton, women. Obama got 35 percent of women voters, compared to 30 percent for Clinton and 23 percent for Edwards. This despite the fact that Clinton focused her campaign on bringing fellow women to the polls.
Rev. Jesse Jackson took note that “this is the 40th year since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tonight he would proud of Barack, proud of Iowa and proud of America.”
'America is changing'
Democratic consultant Jamal Simmons said Obama's victory "proves that America is changing when it comes to race and politics."
"Winning in Iowa is not winning the nomination, but is very significant," Simmons said. "Tonight Barack Obama has made it more true that every black child in America can do whatever they want to if they work hard for it — really."
EDITOR’S NOTE — Nedra Pickler covers the Democratic presidential campaign for The Associated Press