DES MOINES — The Democratic and Republican establishments and their presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Gov. Mitt Romney, were brought low in Iowa on Thursday night, shaken seriously by two national newcomers who won decisively on messages of insurgency and change.
The victors in Iowa, Senator Barack Obama for the Democrats and former Gov. Mike Huckabee for the Republicans, are as far from the status quo as possible. One is the son of a Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother who entered the United States Senate just three years ago. The other is a former Baptist minister who was best known until recently for losing over 100 pounds and taking on the issue of childhood obesity.
The two winners burst the aura of strength and confidence that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Romney had tried to cultivate for months, and left both parties suddenly without a clear path to their nominating conventions, let alone November.
Mrs. Clinton’s loss was especially glaring. Her central strategy for much of 2007 was to appear as the inevitable nominee, but Iowans shredded that notion. She tried in recent weeks to convince voters that another Clinton administration could be an agent of change, but Iowans clearly did not buy it.
Without question, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Romney have the money, the campaign apparatus and the legions of supporters to stay in the hunt for the nomination and to right their campaigns. But Mrs. Clinton’s lackluster finish raises anew questions about her electability, and whether independent voters — twice as many of whom backed Mr. Obama over her — will ever come around to Mrs. Clinton.
And Mr. Romney, who outspent Mr. Huckabee 6 to 1 in television advertising in Iowa, now faces a far more crowded field of rivals in the New Hampshire primary who are eager to tear into his wounded candidacy
All the candidates now move to that primary on Tuesday, which Mrs. Clinton had tried to make a fire wall for her campaign, as it was for her husband’s presidential candidacy in 1992, when he finished strongly in second place.
“If Hillary doesn’t stop Obama in New Hampshire, Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee,” said Robert Shrum, a Democratic consultant who was John Kerry’s senior strategist in 2004.
Clinton advisers declined to say Thursday night if she would now pursue a different strategy against Mr. Obama. But a shift seems likely now that Mrs. Clinton’s multilayered, sometimes contradictory message — offering an experienced hand, for example, but also running as a candidate who could bring change — fell flat in this first contest.
“We built a campaign for the long haul — we feel very good about our operation in New Hampshire, and polling has us up,” said Howard Wolfson, a Clinton spokesman. The danger for Mrs. Clinton, of course, is that those polls may not hold after the outcome in Iowa.
Further undercutting Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama peeled away broad swaths of women from her base of support, and the political potency of baby boomers fell apart in Iowa. Half of the Democrats under 45 said their first choice was Mr. Obama, according to a poll by Edison/Mitofsky of voters entering caucus sites.
At the same time, it was also historic that so many Iowa Democrats voted for an African-American man and a woman. For Mr. Obama, especially, the ratification of his candidacy by Democrats and independents in a predominantly white and rural state suggests that he may be able to build a broad and multiracial coalition in his bid for the White House.
The nomination fights will only intensify from now, though the steel that Mr. Huckabee will deploy in the battle is unclear. He seemed to come out of nowhere — a former governor who was so little known among Republicans that many of them could not even name the state he once led (Arkansas) — and turned from asterisk-status to giant-slayer in spite of a paltry political organization, slim dollars and a final week marked by gaffes.
As when Pat Robertson made a surprise second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses in 1988, Mr. Huckabee enjoyed substantial political support from evangelical Christians and took advantage of a muddled Republican presidential field to gain his 11th-hour victory.
For Mr. Romney, of Massachusetts, his loss will register as a deep blow to his candidacy — a failure bound to worry establishment Republicans and wealthy donors who have viewed him as their man. It will also energize and inspire Republicans who are backing Senator John McCain in the New Hampshire primary.
Mr. Romney’s drive to the Republican nomination was supposed to begin with him looking formidable and confident coming out of Iowa. Mr. Romney, his wife and his sons planted themselves here for months and poured in money, including millions of his own; he now heads to New Hampshire clearly wounded and a target for even more rivals, like Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Senator Fred Thompson, and Mr. McCain, of Arizona.
Mr. Huckabee, a folksy and fairly plain-speaking politician with a sense of humor that many Iowans enjoyed, appealed to Republican caucusgoers who put a premium on a candidate’s Christian faith— and who were deeply wary about seeing a Mormon, Mr. Romney, become president.
But Mr. Huckabee also struck many populist themes that have deep appeal to middle-class Iowans and farmers, promising to tailor his economic priorities to their needs and taking tough stands on a key issue here, immigration.
But Iowa voters are not New Hampshire voters, as Mr. Huckabee and his advisers are well aware. Devoutly religious voters do not exist in nearly the same numbers in the Granite State. And the fervent anti-tax sentiment among Republicans there is likely to clash with Mr. Huckabee’s record of raising taxes in Arkansas.
“If Huckabee scares the Republican establishment and makes the party fear losing, you could see a rapid rallying around a second candidate,” said Nelson Warfield, a Republican consultant not working for any candidate. Still, he said, “Nothing makes a man look like a leader more than a winner.“
Mr. Robertson’s Iowa victory in 1988 — when he came in second to Bob Dole and edged out the ultimate nominee, George H. W. Bush — gave him little bounce in New Hampshire, given the lack of a fervent evangelical base. “I’m going to be the nominee,” Mr. Robertson said right after his victory, crediting God in particular with his success. But his fortunes faded after a drubbing soon after in New Hampshire.
Mr. Huckabee talked about God on the Iowa campaign trail, as well, but on Thursday night there was one other word that he — as well as Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney, Mrs. Clinton, former Senator John Edwards — discussed especially and emphatically: “change.”
As Mr. Edwards put it, “the status quo lost and change won” in the caucuses. Mr. Obama and Mr. Huckabee repeated the words incessantly in their victory speeches, brandishing the word as a talisman that overcame Mrs. Clinton’s decades of experience and Mr. Romney’s leadership bona fides. Yet change was not only the political message; change was the two men themselves.