Friday, 4 January 2008

Obama and Huckabee win Iowa caucuses

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Barrack Obama and Mike Huckabee emerged victorious from their respective caucuses in Iowa yesterday and, as Jeff Sharlet points out in the Revealer, participants in the public meetings came down in favour of the two most religious candidates.

In the Republican contest Baptist minister Hucakbee gained 34 per cent of the vote, trouncing his nearest rival Mitt Romney, who polled 25 per cent (and it's worth pointing out that Romney is a Mormon who's been courting the evangelical wing of the party).

Meanwhile, Barrack Obama got 37.5 per cent of the Democratic vote, with John Edwards taking second place on nearly 29.75 per cent, just pushing Hilary Clinton into third with 29.47 per cent.

According to Sharlet, Huckabee's victory is "the most obvious sign that the Holy Ghost power still matters in power politics", while "Obama's victory should be read as almost as big an indicator that [Americans] are living in a deeply religious moment."

This contrasts with the view of the political commentator Bill Press, who as I reported yesterday sees in the lack of unity among the Religious Right evidence that Christian conservatives are no longer the dominant force in US politics.

It's worth remembering that the Iowa results are hardly reflective of wider opinion in the US. After all, it's a state with a large population of devout Christians, with 40 per cent of Republican voters coming from the religious right. Indeed, according to yesterday's news media entrance polls, 45 per cent of those voting for Huckabee described themselves as "born again", while 55 per cent of those saying religion mattered to them a "great deal" also voted for the Baptist minister. The big name Republicans less driven by religion, such as Rudy Giuliani and John McCain will be looking to make up ground in contests in the more "liberal" states, as will Democrats like Clinton and Edwards.

So, it's clearly too early to tell whether matters of faith will come to dominate the November election, but these early developments suggest the religious views of candidates are unlikely to disappear from campaign rhetoric. All eyes now turn to New Hampshire, which goes to the polls in its primaries next Tuesday.