Des Moines - After a stunning defeat and finishing third in Thursday night's Democratic caucuses, Senator Hillary Clinton congratulated Barack Obama and John Edwards, and vowed to jumpstart her national campaign and win her party's nomination for president.
"I am ready as I can be," Clinton told a crowd of a few hundred invited guests at a downtown hotel ballroom. "We're going to take this enthusiasm and go to New Hampshire."
But, as she spoke, shock and despair seemed to replace enthusiasm in the Clinton campaign. Months ago, the New York senator rolled into Iowa with an aura and attitude of invincibility. She now leaves the state for next Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire after suffering a humiliating finish nine points behind Obama and one point below Edwards.
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Clinton was joined on the stage by her husband Bill Clinton and a pack of other Democratic luminaries including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former General Wesley Clark and Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles.
As the TV networks projected Obama's insurgent victory about 90 minutes after the opening of the 7 p.m. caucuses, Clinton's rented ballroom seemed the loneliest place in town. Not a single guest was seen on the cordoned-off floor. And then shortly after the network projection was broadcast, the tightly disciplined Clinton campaign literally assembled the crowd for the batteries of TV cameras in the room.
Putting the best face on her stinging defeat, Clinton attached herself to what she called the "clear message of change" manifested in the massive Democratic turnout. After congratulating her two top rivals she claimed that "together we have presented the case for change" and declared the results to be "a great night for Democrats." Both Obama and Edwards, however, vigorously counterpoised themselves as agents of profound change and generational turnover against an ossified status quo embodied by Clinton.