By Lisa Keen
In Des Moines, the anti-gay editor of a college student newspaper crossed over from the Republican party to caucus for Democrat Barack Obama in Thursday night’s caucuses. In Iowa City, a Democratic precinct caucus passed a resolution calling for legal recognition of same-sex marriages. And throughout the first state to vote on its 2008 presidential favorites, evangelical Christians turned out in droves to support Republican Mike Huckabee.
Obama won 38 percent of the delegates coming out of the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, followed by John Edwards with 30 percent, Hillary Clinton with 29 percent, Bill Richardson 2 percent, and others 1 percent.
Huckabee won 34 percent of the vote in the Republican caucuses, followed by Mitt Romney with 25 percent, Fred Thompson and John McCain with 13 percent each, Ron Paul with 10 percent, Rudy Giuliani with 4 percent, and others 1 percent.
CNN political analyst Bill Schneider provided some glimpses into voter demographics and concerns. Although the network did not ask any questions to determine the number of gay caucus participants or the degree to which gay issues affected voters’ choices, it did find that, among 1,600 Republican caucus goers, 60 percent identified as born again or evangelical Christians.
Of those Republicans who identified as born again or evangelical Christians, 46 percent supported Huckabee. That turnout clearly gave the former Arkansas governor an enormous boost that enabled him to win 34 percent of the total Republican turnout in the Iowa caucuses.
CNN’s survey of 2,136 Democrats participating in the caucuses lumped “men and unmarried women” into one category to compare against “married women.” Among “men and unmarried women,” 36 percent supported Obama, 25 percent Clinton, 22 percent Edwards, 8 percent Bill Richardson, 5 percent Joe Biden, and 4 percent others.
Janelle Rettig, an openly gay precinct captain supporting Hillary Clinton in Iowa City’s Precinct 17, described a scene that many attending and observing the caucuses saw Thursday night -an unprecedented turnout, in both parties.
“My precinct had 661” caucus participants, said Rettig. “Two hundred and twenty more than four years ago.” Obama won six delegates, and Clinton and John Edwards each won three.
But while her candidate may not have done as well as she had hoped, said Rettig, she herself advanced as a delegate for Clinton to the next level of caucusing in Iowa, the county. And her precinct approved a resolution in support of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
One of the most interesting stories reported Thursday night came from the Des Moines Register which found former Republican -and anti-gay student newspaper editor– Jason Casini “registered as a Democrat to caucus for Barack Obama.” Casini, who is now a 40-year-old attorney, had been so anti-gay during his days editing the University of Iowa’s Daily Iowan, said the Register, that protests were organized outside the newspaper’s office just against him.
Casini was not the rule for Republicans. Only three percent of Democratic caucus participants identified themselves as Republicans (most of those did vote for Obama); one percent of Republican caucus goers identified as Democratic.
CNN’s exit polls showed that 56 percent of the voters who supported Huckabee in the caucuses said a candidate’s religious beliefs “matter a great deal.” Schneider said the warning sign for Huckabee was that, among Republican voters who are not born again or evangelical Christians, he got only 14 percent of the vote.
“He has to appeal to the non-evangelical Republican voters, to those who do not put religion in first place, he’s got to broaden his appeal beyond his religious base,” said Schneider.
The surging victory of Huckabee in the Republican caucuses in Iowa Thursday carried a disquieting message for the LGBT community. Since he began is rocket climb from the bottom to the top of the GOP polls, Huckabee has been under intense scrutiny for his comments hostile to gays. In the 1990s, he called homosexuality a “aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle,” compared it to “pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia,” and suggested people with HIV should be isolated.
Presumably, Republicans who supported Huckabee in Iowa didn’t hear about those comments, didn’t mind them, or didn’t let them persuade their vote.
Meanwhile, the eight-candidate Democratic field was trimmed by at least three candidates following the caucuses. Christopher Dodd, Joe Biden, and Mike Gravel indicated Thursday night that they would be dropping out of the race. No word of any dropouts yet from the Republican field.