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21 February 2024

Victory puts Obama in sight of top prize

By Alex Spillius



Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa has already made history. He became the first black candidate to win a caucus or a primary, succeeding where Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton failed – by wide margins – before him.

But the magnitude and the location of his triumph place him in sight of a prize that many African-Americans will today have to stop regarding as a fantasy: the White House.

The fact that Iowa, rural, 95 per cent white, old and conventional, voted for a black man will give a lot of voters in South Carolina, which holds its primary later this month, and other states with large black populations huge cause for thought. Race remains a divisive issue in the US, but Obama, 46, the son of a Kenyan and a white American woman, is a black politician who doesn’t share the vitriol of older generations.

Iowans didn’t vote him just because of his colour. They liked his opposition to the Iraq war, his vision of a cleaner Washington and his promise of universal healthcare, but the hue of his skin is a large part of he really represents: that ultimate political buzzword, change.

Simply by who he is, as well as what he promises for the country, Obama offers Americans something very new, and with the momentum of victory in the caucuses, that could well propel him all the way to the Democratic Party’s nomination and to the White House. At campaign events supporters would often quote his words – imagine what a different image the US will present to the world when a black man with the middle name Hussein is sworn in as president.

That vision is now a step closer to reality.

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee may have taken the stage to make his victory speech to the strains of the theme music from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but the jovial Southern preacher is no longer treated as a joke by his opponents.

Early on his better funded and better known rivals quietly dismissed his campaign. The Washington commentariat openly wrote him off as poorly resourced candidate who nonetheless was capable of some good one-liners.

He has proved all the doubters wrong and in doing so proved Iowa’s potential to provide an upset. Republican core voters in the state are mostly churchgoers of modest means who were receptive to the role of religion in Huckabee’s politics and his concern for the common man.

With the lack of a strong candidate capable of uniting different branches of the party, Huckabee filled the vacuum. Gradually he overtook the Mormon Mitt Romney, the early leader, whom many evangelicals remained hesitant about supporting because of his religion, which is regarded with deep suspicion.

Neither Rudy Giuliani nor John McCain, secularists who are weak on key social issues such as abortion or immigration, matched their expectations. So Huckabee fitted the bill. The conventional wisdom is that he won’t have the money or the political muscle to prevail in New Hampshire, a less religious state, and will then falter. But South Carolina holds its primary on January 19 that Huckabee would now hope to win. (The Daily Telegraph)