DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. John Kerry (search), come-from-behind winner of Iowa's caucuses (search), promised with a hoarse and halting voice Monday to kick President Bush and the influence of special interests out of the White House.
"We're coming," he warned the Republicans. "You're going. And don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Calling himself "Comeback Kerry," the Massachusetts lawmaker told supporters: "The one person in America who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush."
The message is tailored for independent voters in New Hampshire (search), site of the Jan. 27 followup primary.
"Not so long ago, this campaign was written off," Kerry told cheering supporters stuffed into a steamy downtown hotel ballroom. "But in your homes and community halls, in barns and VFW halls and restaurants ... you listened and you stood with me on this caucus night so that we can defeat George Bush and the special interests he serves -- and give back America its future and its soul."
Kerry said he's ready for a fight in New Hampshire, where he predicted voters will respond to his foreign affairs experience.
"My friends, we need a Democratic nominee who can stand up to this president, eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe, face-to-face and make it clear: We Democrats know how to make America safer," said the Vietnam War veteran.
Kerry garnered support for his lawmaking experience, which includes almost two decades in the Senate. Seven in 10 people backed him among those who said such experience was the most important quality in a candidate, according to an entrance poll of caucus-goers conducted for the National Election Pool -- made up of The Associated Press and the TV networks -- by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
Young adults ages 18-29 as well as older voters favored Kerry, who also got support from independents and moderates. He also was competitive among other groups such as liberals and those who strongly disapproved of the war with Iraq.
Kerry fired his campaign manager late last year and, perhaps more importantly, began to run more aggressively himself. "I was learning along the way," Kerry quipped Monday night. After his campaign cratered in New Hampshire amid Dean's surge, Kerry focused all his resources on Iowa in a last-ditch effort to salvage his campaign.
"It's very exciting," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We have an enormous effort on the ground here in Iowa and it reflects the trust of people here who listened to the real deal agenda and they responded to it," he said.
"Now it's on to New Hampshire, the next contest," he said. "It comes quickly."
Bob Aguiniga, 54, of Des Moines, helped celebrate the Kerry victory to rock music and drinks at the victory reception in downtown Des Moines.
"I love it," he said. "Kerry is the man. He looks out for the average person. He looks out for everybody."