Many voters, especially those who attend church on a regular or even occasional basis, see Christianity and American values as threatened by an increasingly secular and militant minority. This threat from within is more real to many voters than the threat of terrorism.
Let's look at what happened among the Democrats:
First, Obama drew thousands of new participants to the caucuses. That is good news for the Democratic party, which continues to get younger as the Republicans party gets older. But the road ahead will not be easy for Obama, who will now come in for the scrutiny that Clinton, formerly the perceived frontrunner, has faced till now. Obama must convince moderate Democrats to support his platform. This is a problem for him in New Hampshire. He may overcome it and beat Clinton next Tuesday because voters like the idea of an African-American presidential candidate. The idea makes them feel good about themselves and their country. Obama may ride that wave a bit further. But the going gets tougher now.
Clinton unraveled for a time and only changed her message from "experience" to "change" in the last days of the Iowa campaign. Her caucus night headquarters was full of signs proclaiming "change" and the word "experience" was banished. Democrats are the party of change. Republicans prize experience. Clinton's basic campaign message was not in sync with Iowans and Democrats nationally. On top of that, Clinton does not wear well with voters. They are tired of her, for whatever reasons.
Edwards fell flat despite his second place finish. His populist appeal and six years of campaigning in Iowa were demolished by Obama. He will continue the fight, hoping that Obama will burn out. New Hampshire is not friendly territory for Edwards and many of his tentative supporters are expected to join what they hope is the Obama bandwagon.
The other Democratic candidates had miserable nights and Biden and Dodd quit the campaign.
What happened with the Republicans?
Huckabee rode a wave of feel-good ads and folksy public appearances. He was the overwhelming choice of evangelicals, who sent a message in Iowa that Radnor focus groups have started to pick up elsewhere as well. This may be one of the main themes of the 2008 election and beyond:
Many Americans are less concerned that the U.S. is vulnerable to terrorism or headed for recession than they are about what they see as increasing secularism within society. The secularism that people perceive is militant. They are getting ready to fight back. Millions of Americans are coming to believe that government and major institutions (unions, especially teacher unions, the media, Hollywood, corporations) are out to destroy the basic value system of the country. They sense that an anti-religion or anti-Christian minority is threatening their basic cultural values.
This is potent stuff. We are not talking just about evangelicals. Clearly, rational arguments may not convince someone who rejects evolution. But even mainstream Christians voice concern about the breakdown of American values. They are looking for someone to do something about it but they do not know what should be done or who should do it. They mistrust the evangelical right as too strident. If they ever agree on a "what" or "who," these concerned voters can be a major force in 2008 and beyond.
The Republicans will winnow themselves down to one candidate on the right and one on the left. Huckabee and Romney will fight for the right, with Romney focusing on the economic conservatives within the party and Huckabee rallying the religious right. Note that Romney's flip-flops have been on social issues. He will not take those voters from Huckabee anyway so the flip-flops will be less important in coming weeks - unless Romney himself puts social issues in play.
That leaves McCain in position to challenge Giuliani for the moderate Republicans. Thompson did not catch fire in Iowa and seems to be fading.
McCain is the big winner among Republicans in Iowa. His finish will cause speculation that he is back from the political dead and New Hampshire is viewed as favorable McCain country. A McCain victory in New Hampshire is now expected by many Republican pros. Giuliani may still be the favorite in the long run, but his decision to forego Iowa and New Hampshire may come back to haunt him if McCain can resurrect himself before Giuliani's areas of strength vote on Super Tuesday.