Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts took the Iowa caucuses Monday night, garnering about 38 percent support. Kerry edged out first-term Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who had new life breathed into his campaign, netting 32 percent. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has long been the front-runner for the nomination, took 11 percent.
“Last night, the New England Patriots won,” Kerry told supporters in Iowa late Monday night. “Tonight, this New Englander won, and you’ve sent me on my way to the Super Bowl.”
The Iowa caucuses should serve as good indicators for where the candidates stand heading into Jan. 27th’s primary in New Hampshire.
Kerry’s resurgence in Iowa Monday night wasn’t the only surprise. After the results became known, Rep. Dick Gephardt announced he would drop from the race.
In Tampa, political supporters and student groups gathered at local restaurants to watch the results of the caucuses unfold.
Amidst beer and buffalo wings at Bennigan’s on Fowler Avenue, members from USF’s Student Government, including student body president Omar Khan and vice president Ryan Morris, joined up with other campus groups to push initiatives aimed to get students to the polls for the upcoming Florida primary in March.
Khan said SG is trying to orchestrate a possible student-run debate among the candidates to be held just prior to the primary. Depending on who commits, Khan said the debate would be held in either the Special Events Center or in the Sun Dome.
Prior to the caucuses Monday night, USF college Democrats president John Duddy wasn’t ready to throw in his support for any one candidate. Most Democrats, he says, have an “anybody-but-Bush” attitude, but are also concerned with the party as a whole. It is important, he says, that through the course of the primaries the Democrats maintain a “unified front.”
“I want them to give the impression that liberals don’t eat their young,” Duddy said. “We’re not a negative party. We are a party of inclusion.”
Across town at Fletcher’s on Fletcher Avenue, the Hillsborough County Democratic Election committee had a gathering of its own.
There, supporters spoke about how their candidates appeal to college students.
Gen. Wesley Clark, who chose to opt out of the Iowa caucuses for fear of spreading his resources too thin, appeals to the college-aged demographic because of his military experience, Florida Clark campaign coordinator Marcus Carter said.
“Clark believes and understands that war is a last resort because he has been there before as a general,” Carter said. That, he said, should give draft-registered, college-aged people solace knowing that Clark would only opt for war in the most extreme of circumstances.
Across the room, a table full of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s supporters said college students could probably most identify with their candidate because he refuses to play the game of big-money politics. His support of a universal health care is also something many college students would tend to agree with, said Voni Moore, a USF student and volunteer for the Kucinich campaign.
“This is your world, your life, your America,” Moore said. “Everyone is afraid of what America is becoming, but they’re also afraid to stand up for what’s right. (Kucinich) is not afraid to stand up for what’s right.”
Gene Smith, who was the Tampa Bay area chairman of Bob Graham’s presidential campaign, said students might also identify with Edwards because of his youth and Dean for his message of empowerment.
Back at Bennigan’s, it is that message that excites USF Students for Dean members Helen Pflugh and Chris Martinez. And while Dean placed third Monday night, Martinez said it is important not to lose sight of the influence his charismatic, straight-from-the-hip personality has. Dean has made his opponents stronger, he said.
“He has strengthened the entire Democratic field,” Martinez said. “He allows people to speak from their hearts, and that’s why (the other candidates) are doing a lot better.”
But even if Dean doesn’t win the nomination, Martinez, an independent, said one of the other Democrats should stand a strong chance to win, as long as the public is educated.
“People need to wake up, read the paper, read the news, see what’s really going on and, in my mind, I don’t see how Bush wins,” he said.