PINOY Newsmagazine/Philippine News/Inquirer.net
Text, photos and videos by Ted Regencia
DES MOINES, Iowa — For one night on January 3, the midwest state of Iowa became the epicenter of American politics, as voters participated in the traditional caucus, catapulting Senator Barack Obama and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee to the top of the Democratic and Republican race for the White House.
Running on the message of change, Obama and Huckabee wrest Iowa from their better-known and well-financed rivals, such as New York Senator Hillary Clinton and multi-millionaire former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. The first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus, a rudimentary process of securing votes by hours of debate, deliberation, even horse-trading, and eventually show of hands, could create momentum for both candidates as they move the next states.
“They said, our sights were set too high. They said, this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do,” said Obama, who made history by becoming the first African American to ever win Iowa, a state that is 96 percent white.
“We are one nation, we are one people, and our time for change has come,” added the junior US senator from Illinois, to rousing applause by supporters who packed downtown Des Moines’ HyVee Hall.
Obama’s Filipino-American supporters, a very rare sight in this state of vast farmlands, were visibly thrilled to witness a son of a Kenyan migrant, claim victory.
“I think it is just [an] amazing part of history. I think we are sending him off to the other states with great energy, and to show the rest of the United States that this is what we need and this is what we want,” said Joy Esposito, a Filipino American native of San Diego and ten-year resident of Des Moines. Esposito’s parents were born in Hawaii to Filipino immigrants.
“We are so happy to do this in Iowa,” added Esposito. It was her second time to caucus and her first as a precinct captain for Obama. Esposito related how Obama’s grassroots organization worked, knocking on doors and talking to friends and neighbors, by phone and over coffee, to discuss the merits of his candidacy.
As the votes were counted in Esposito’s precinct, four of the eight voters who showed up eventually sided with Obama. Of the record-breaking 200,000 plus who voted Democratic, Obama got 38 percent of the votes, John Edwards got 30 percent and Clinton, 29 percent. About 100,000, many Christian Evangelicals, voted Republican, boosting Huckabee, a Baptist minister.
Another Obama supporter, Cherry Welch, a native of Butuan City, Philippines also expressed her excitement for being part of the caucus.
“I am really excited, and I think he can make a big change for our country, and we are ready for him,” Welch, who is married to an Iowan, said. The 25-year resident of Iowa said Obama also won in her precinct. “It’s a historic moment for Iowa,” she quipped.
Clinton’s third place finish was particularly disappointing to her better-organized Filipino-American supporters here. Several gatherings had been organized by the community for the former first lady, a long-time supporter of the Filipino veterans issue. In one of their recent meetings, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an early endorser of Clinton, showed up. LA has a significant Filipino population.
National leaders in the Filipino community, such as Irene Natividad, Maria Luisa Haley and Janelle Cabrera also travelled to Iowa, as part of Clinton’s outreach to the Asian community here.
In Chicago, a five and a half-hour drive east of Des Moines, Filipino American leaders, many affiliated with the local chapter of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), were openly supporting Clinton. They also travelled to next-door state of Iowa to volunteer and convince other Filipinos to vote for Hillary, a native of Illinois. While many NaFFAA officers volunteered for Clinton in their personal capacity, the organization did not endorse any candidate.
At the Filipino Store in Des Moines, owners Dwight Roberts and wife Benilda’s excitement for Hillary Clinton was apparent. Just hours before the caucus, Benilda, a native of Talibon, Bohol, a first-time caucus participant said she is supporting Clinton, “because she is a strong advocate on immigration.” “She will help reunite Filipino families, and she is very supportive the veterans,” she added. The Roberts’ eight-year old daughter, Kimberly, also volunteered in the Kids for Hillary in Iowa, making posters and countdown signs, and attending rallies. The couple caucused in Indianola, Iowa.
The onslaught of support for Obama, however, was too much for Clinton to overcome. Among 18 to 29 year-old voters, Obama secured over 50 percent of the votes, to Clinton’s 10 percent. Among women, expected to be the natural base for Clinton, she was also defeated by Obama, 35 to 30 percent. Many Independents and Republicans also caucused Democratic, so they can vote for Obama.
Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents the historic Filipino Town, said of Obama: “This is a phenomenal victory. I think this represents a point in our history that we will look back on and say, this is when the country began to be unified again and began to move in a direction that America deserves.”
Garcetti, who flew in to Iowa to campaign for Obama, said he is “the natural candidate” for Filipino American voters because “he shares the experience of so many Filipino families.” “He is somebody who understands the struggles that Filipino families, and families of color go through. He is the natural candidate for the Filipino community, not because simply of his background, but also because of his ideals.”
Several caucuses and primaries are scheduled after Iowa, including New Hampshire on January 8. Major states such as California and Illinois are set to hold it’s primary on February 5, the so-called “Super Duper Tuesday.” (Obama speech video by Cameraman Victor Grumo)