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ON OBAMA'S BIG NIGHT

 

Friday, January 4, 2008.

 

By Keith Boykin

 

The night belonged to Barack Obama. Mike Huckabee won the Republican vote in the Iowa caucuses, but the night really belonged to Obama. After a long hard fight, Obama emerged on top with a strong victory over his two closest rivals, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.

 

It was also a night about change. A record 220,000 Democrats showed up at the caucuses to cast their public ballots in the election. When all the votes were counted, Obama won convincingly, carrying most of the 99 counties in the state, winning on all the major issues that the voters cared about, and even carrying the women's vote against a formidable woman candidate.

 

To see my law school classmate standing on the stage as the first African American ever to win the Iowa Caucuses made me extremely proud. I felt proud to be a black man and proud to be an American tonight. "They said this day would never come. They said our sites were set too high," Obama began his speech. "But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."

 

Obama's speech made me a believer. It was by far the most presidential, most inspiring, and most polished of all the speeches delivered during the night. It was the speech of a man who could and should be (the first black) president of the United States. But Barack Obama is more than just a first. He's the real deal. He is the candidate of hope and change, and tonight I'm sure he convinced many Americans that he can win and he can bring the country together.

 

Let me be clear. This campaign is not over. Senator Hillary Clinton raised $100 million last year, she's ahead in most of the polls, and she still has the counsel of the former president, who many consider to be the best politician in the Democratic Party. But Clinton will have her work cut out for her if she hopes to win. I like Hillary Clinton. I have never been one of the Clinton haters, and I would be happy to have her as president. But I would be excited if Barack Obama won the presidency.

 

The Iowa vote seems to indicate that the public wants change. Even on the Republican side, Huckabee's victory over the well-funded Romney campaign was a sign that many GOP voters are unhappy with the direction of the country and eager for new leadership.

 

John Edwards said that the message tonight was that the two candidates who thought they could buy the election were wrong. I assume he's referring to Romney and Clinton, and if that's the case his message makes some sense, although the Obama campaign actually spent more money in Iowa than any other candidate in the race. But Edwards is not the future. He's a good man with a good heart, but he said nothing last night to convince me to vote for him.

 

For her part, Hillary Clinton tried to spin the election results as a victory for the entire Democratic Party. With Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and New York's African American Lieutenant Governor David Patterson behind her, Clinton looked optimistic but sounded like she was prepared for the possibility of losing when she spoke of a "Democrat" in the White House in 2009.

 

If Obama was the best speaker of the night, then Huckabee was clearly the most humorous and quotable. "This election is not about me, it's about we," he said. With Chuck Norris at his side, Huckabee echoed Edwards's theme when he said the election proved that "people really are more important than the purse." Huckabee was significantly outspent by Romney, who used his speech to invoke the memory of his Olympic experience and claim that he had "won the silver" medal.

 

Last month I predicted that Clinton and Huckabee would win the Iowa caucuses, and I was only half right. I got the Republican side right but I completly misread the Democratic side. I also predicted that Obama and McCain would win New Hampshire. I still believe that will happen -- McCain was already in New Hampshire last night -- but now that Clinton has lost Iowa, a second consecutive defeat could spell the beginning of the end of her campaign.

 

Already last night two Democrats, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, announced that they were dropping out of the race. Soon I expect Richardson may drop out too. This has always been a 2- or 3-person race on the Democratic side between Obama, Clinton and Edwards.

 

But Clinton and Obama have much more money than Edwards and I'm not sure he can last very long without picking up a victory somewhere, and I have no idea where that will happen.

 

Anything can happen in politics, and there's always a risk in predicting the future. But for the first time ever, Americans tonight saw the real possibility that a black man could be elected president of the United States.

 

At the end of a long night, the one impression that stayed with me was a simple line from Barack Obama. Tonight, he said, "America remembers what it means to hope."

 

Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com

 

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