DES MOINES — SEN. Tom Harkin (D) has won the strong showing he wanted in his home state in the first voting test of the 1992 presidential campaign, but the focus now turns to New Hampshire, where the stakes are higher and the outlook murky and volatile.
Senator Harkin swept the Iowa precinct caucuses with an estimated 77 percent of the vote while former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas was the surprise runner-up, edging out Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, whose front-runner status in the polls has been damaged by nagging questions over whether he had an extra-marital affair and evaded the draft - charges he has denied.
With 69 percent of Iowa's 2,189 precincts reporting, Tsongas won 4.2 percent of the vote to Clinton's 2.9 percent. Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey finished fourth with 2 percent and former California Gov. Jerry Brown ran fifth with 1.5 percent.
Turnout was low, estimated at 30,000 to 35,000 compared with 120,000 in 1988.
Even at their best, the caucuses - in which Democrats gather informally to express their presidential preference - are a poor predictor of presidential success.
In the three presidential campaigns of the 1980s, only three of the six Iowa caucus winners went on to win the nomination and only one - incumbent President Reagan in 1984 - won the general election the same year.
"This campaign is on track. The train is on time. This engine has a full head of steam," Harkin told cheering supporters. "Now we take it to the rest of the country."