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Kerry shakes up race and staggers Dean with decisive win in Iowa
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John Kerry greets supporters in Iowa on Monday. (Photo courtesy of the Kerry campaign)

Des Moines, Iowa — (AP) With a decisive victory in Iowa, John Kerry reclaimed the high expectations that ushered in his presidential candidacy and dashed any notion that Howard Dean's march to the Democratic nomination was preordained.

Kerry, a Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran, and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards buried Dean in third place Monday night in the Iowa presidential caucuses and brought a probable end to the political career of two-time presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.

It was a startling turnaround in a race that now swings to New Hampshire and the nation's first presidential primary next Tuesday.

"I want to thank Iowa for making me the 'comeback Kerry,"' the winner said, borrowing a phrase from Bill Clinton's "comeback kid" revival in 1992. "Not so long ago, this campaign was written off." But "you stood with me," Kerry told supporters, "so that we can take on George Bush and the special interests and literally give America back its future and its soul."

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Kerry had 38 percent, Edwards 32 percent, Dean 18 percent and Gephardt 11 percent. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio was at 1 percent.

The Iowa candidates were on their way east in a flash, and Wesley Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who bypassed Iowa, were ready to take them on.

Clark quickly set his sights on the new front-runner, Kerry. "He's got military background, but nobody in this race has got the kind of background I've got," said Clark, a retired four-star Army general and one-time NATO supreme allied commander.

Edwards and Dean were back on the ground in New Hampshire by 3:30 a.m., both holding brief airport rallies to exhort the faithful who turned out to welcome them.

"I used to be the front-runner when I went out to Iowa, but I'm not the front-runner any more," Dean said at Portsmouth. "But New Hampshire has a great tradition of supporting the underdog. So guess what. Let's go get them."

Edwards was jubilant when he touched down at Concord. "Can you feel it?" he asked cheering supporters. "The people of New Hampshire are going to feel it a week from tonight. We're going to sweep across the country and we're going to do it without the negative politics of cynicism."

The Iowa outcome raised the prospect of a protracted nomination fight instead of the crisp contest that was intended when Democrats front-loaded their primary race calendar. Kerry has lots of his own money to spend, while Dean, Edwards and Clark have raised millions of dollars.

Until the final days of the Iowa campaign, Dean had dominated the national contest with his blistering rhetoric against the Iraq war and President Bush's tax cuts, his money-raising prowess and his wildfire-paced, Internet-powered insurgency against Washington - all of that topped with growing endorsements from the Democratic establishment.

But in the first votes that matter in the 2004 presidential election, Iowans opted for the experience, steady demeanor and nuanced positions of Kerry, 60, and staggered Dean's upstart campaign.

"Of course, I'd rather come in first, but we didn't - and we're alive," said Dean, the former Vermont governor who has raised more than $40 million and sent 3,500 volunteers to Iowa. "We just need to fight like crazy."

Some of Dean's rivals were unrelenting in their attacks, and his prickly temper flared more than once under the barrage. Gephardt in particular went after him with negative ads, and they had an effect - but not the result the Missouri congressman intended.

Kerry and Edwards posted a late surge, keeping their message positive, carefully tending their organizations and reaping the benefits as doubts about Dean deepened. Edwards, once barely on the radar screen, exulted in his changed fortunes.

"I came here a year ago with the belief that we could change this country, that the politics of hope would beat the politics of cynicism," Edwards said. "The people of Iowa tonight confirmed that they believe in an uplifting vision to change America."

Kerry began his campaign as a presumed favorite, better known than most rivals and a Democrat with credentials both as a Vietnam hero and a leader of the protest movement against that conflict.

But he struggled to find his footing and sell his this-but-that positions to Democrats wowed by Dean's certitudes.

Ultimately, however, Iowans backed a candidate who voted in favor of Bush's decision to go to war - but criticizes the president's prosecution of it - and who wants to eliminate the Bush tax cuts going to the richest Americans, but keep the rest of the tax-cut package.

Kerry scored strongly across a spectrum of political leanings and age groups, according to a survey of caucus-goers done for The Associated Press and the major TV networks.

Young adults, older voters and independents liked him. So did voters who identified themselves as everything from somewhat liberal to conservative.

Among those who said experience was the quality most important to them in a candidate, seven in 10 backed Kerry - a finding that helps explain his edge over Edwards as well as Dean.

When Iowa Democrats stopped counting at the end of the evening, an AP analysis showed Kerry with 20 delegates from the state, followed by Edwards with 18 and Dean with seven. But the fight was much less about delegates than about expectations and momentum for the battles to come.

For Gephardt, it appeared the battles were over. "My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end," Gephardt said before heading back to St. Louis to drop out of the race on Tuesday. He is serving his 14th and last term in Congress.

The survey of caucus-goers indicated the anti-war vote was not pivotal - indeed, more who were strongly against the war backed Kerry than Dean.

And only one in 20 considered trade a top issue. Gephardt made opposition to free trade agreements one of his signature issues.

Clark, who rose in New Hampshire polls while Dean slipped in Iowa, made clear he'll be comparing his military career to Kerry's.

"It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that. I respect that. ... But I've got the military experience at the top as well as at the bottom."

Lieberman said the wide-open race gives him a fresh shot. "We're now on to New Hampshire, and New Hampshire is a whole new ballgame," he said.

Kucinich said he would carry on his candidacy, a longshot all along. "No one figured we'd do any better than fifth place, so I neither exceeded nor fell below expectations," he said.

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