Out of the first turn

Supporters of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee whooped it up Thursday night as each won his party’s Iowa presidential caucus.

Sen. Obama, with 38 percent, convincingly defeated John Edwards (30 percent) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (29 percent). Mr. Huckabee won 34 percent of the Republican support, besting Mitt Romney (25 percent), Sen. John McCain (13 percent) and Fred Thompson (13 percent).

Does this mean that Sen. Obama and Mr. Huckabee are now the favorites to face off for the presidency later this year?

Not necessarily.

Let’s put Thursday’s results in historical perspective.

Remember Tom Harkin, Dick Gephardt and Edmund Muskie? Each won the Iowa Democratic caucus at one point over the past 36 years, yet saw their candidacies soon fizzle.

Since the first Iowa caucus in 1972, the only two Democratic candidates who managed to emerge from a crowded field to win the nomination were Jimmy Carter in 1976 (who actually finished second behind “uncommitted”) and John Kerry in 2004.

On the Republican side, George H.W. Bush (1980) and Bob Dole (1988) each won in Iowa but went nowhere in those years.

Outside of Mr. Carter, “the winner of the Iowa caucus, incumbents excluded, has never … won the presidency,” pointed out Michael Judge in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.

This year could be unique, of course. It is, after all, the first time since 1952 that neither an incumbent nor his vice president will earn either party’s nomination.

And while winning Iowa has never been a guarantee of long-term success — Mr. Huckabee, for instance, is short on money and short on credibility with GOP free marketers, which won’t help — losing there can certainly kill a campaign. Just ask Howard Dean, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Richard Lugar, Hubert Humphrey, Mo Udall and Gary Hart.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t quite seem so invincible today, does she?

On to New Hampshire … and then, on Jan. 19, Nevada.

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