DES MOINES, Iowa - Two candidates who can claim the mantle of Washington outsider have won the first-in-the-country contests in the race to the presidential election later this year.
With a message of hope and change, first-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama swept into victory Jan. 3 at the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, taking the lead in his party's 2008 presidential nomination.
On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and a Southern Baptist minister whose name was not a household word a few months ago, pulled in Iowa's evangelical Christian delegates to become his party's frontrunner.
In his bid to become the first black president of the United States, Obama, 46, won 38 percent of the caucus delegates, surging almost 10 points ahead of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who hopes to become the country's first female president.
Clinton, who has seemed invincible since entering the presidential nomination arena a year ago, finished third with 29 percent of the votes behind former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who won 30 percent.
Party officials in Iowa said the turnout of more than 236,000 delegates was the biggest ever, far exceeding the 124,000 who participated in 2004. Twice the number of Democrats showed up this year than in 2004. The large turnout was attributed in part because of the tightly contested races in both parties. This is the first time in more than 50 years that an incumbent president or vice president is not in the race.
It was also the most lavishly spent-upon event, with an estimated $40 million expended on television ads alone.
Obama's win in Iowa is the latest manifestation of his meteoric rise to national prominence since his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
In a victory speech punctuated with outbreaks of thunderous applause and calls of ''O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!'' from a joyous audience, Obama described his victory as ''a defining moment in history.''
''They said this day would never come. They said our sights were too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned, to come together around a common purpose,'' he said.
''We are one nation. We are one people. And our time for change has come.''
Thanking his wife, Michelle, and all the workers and Iowans who effected his caucus victory, Obama said: ''This was the moment when we finally beat back the politics of fear and doubt and cynicism, where we tear each other down instead of lifting this country up. This was the moment. Years from now you'll look back and you'll say this was the moment, this was the place, when Americans remembered what it means to hope.''
Hope, Obama said, ''is what led me here today, with a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America. ... Hope is what led a group of young women and men to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause.''
Of all the Democratic candidates, Obama has most consistently supported issues important to Indian country during his short tenure in the Senate, including his co-sponsorship of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 and a ban on dumping nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, a site sacred to the Western Shoshone and Paiute tribes, and land that was guaranteed to the tribe by treaty. He has a permanent place on his Web site for America's indigenous peoples, including an interactive blog.
On the Republican side, Huckabee, with 34 percent of the delegates, trounced rival Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sen. John McCain and actor Fred Thompson tied for third place, each with 13 percent of the delegates.
''I wasn't sure if I could ever love a state as much as I love my home state - but I love Iowa,'' Huckabee told an overflow crowd of supporters in his victory speech.
''Tonight, what we have seen is a new day in American politics. And it starts here in Iowa, but it doesn't end here. It goes all the way through the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,'' Huckabee said, with martial arts expert Chuck Norris by his side.
Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, counted on - and received - strong support from evangelical Christians. Caucus officials estimated that more than 125,000 Republicans attended the caucuses, hugely outpacing the previous record of about 87,000 voters. Sixty percent of the caucus-goers described themselves as evangelicals, and voted for Huckabee over Romney by more than 2 to 1, according to entrance polls.
According to Huckabee's Web site, he opposes abortion, the theory of evolution, amnesty for undocumented ''immigrants,'' and universal health care. He supports continuing and ''winning'' the war in Iraq, teaching creationism in schools, fighting ''radical Islamic fascism'' and unrestrained market capitalism.
There is no mention of American Indians, Indian country or Indian issues on Huckabee's Web site.
Media pundits were predicting Democratic joy over Huckabee's win, claiming he would be easy to defeat if he is selected as the Republican presidential candidate. But the battle is far from over: When the Iowa caucus concluded, the candidates moved on to New Hampshire's Jan. 8 primary.
Other caucuses will follow: Jan. 15 in Michigan, Jan. 19 in Nevada and South Carolina (R), Jan 26 in South Carolina (D), Jan. 29 in Florida and Feb. 1 in Maine. Super Tuesday follows on Feb. 5 in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho (D), Illinois, Kansas (D), Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico (D), New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.
The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 25 - 28 in Denver, Colo., where the party's presidential candidate is decided and announced. The Republican presidential candidate will be decided and announced at the Republican National Convention, Sept. 1 - 4 in St. Paul, Minn.