The Editor’s Desk

Last Friday afternoon, only hours after winning the Iowa Democratic caucus, Barack Obama was sitting in a teacher's small office at Concord High School in New Hampshire when Richard Wolffe arrived for an interview. "His senior aides David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs stood to the side working their BlackBerrys," Richard says. "Obama was nursing a big steel travel mug full of tea. He couldn't have slept more than three hours, and his voice was even scratchier than it was when I saw him with Michelle on his bus on Wednesday evening in Iowa."

A word about the decision to put Obama on our cover. Weekly magazines like ours have traditionally worried about looking stale or out of sync if the candidate we are featuring loses a different primary early in the week we publish. We suffered from that perennial concern until Thursday night. Then, when Obama's victory— 8 points over John Edwards, and 9 over Hillary Clinton—became clear, so did the cover decision. Barack Obama has made not only news but history.

In an election to choose a successor to an unpopular incumbent at an hour of danger, an African-American candidate for president convincingly won a state that is virtually all white; a 46-year-old first-term senator defeated two more seasoned national politicians; an insurgent is roiling the stately party establishment Bill Clinton built as the first two-term Democratic president since FDR. No matter what happens going forward, in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond, the Obama win—a vote for a viable candidate of color in a nation in which the issue of race has been called simply "the American dilemma"—is a new chapter in our long national story.

Part of the message from Iowa, whatever one's politics, is that we are one step closer to judging our politicians, and one another, in the classic King formulation, not by color but by character. "I've said from the beginning I had confidence in the American people," Obama told Richard. "Race is no doubt still a factor in our culture. But people want to know who is going to provide health care that works, schools that work, a foreign policy that works. If they think you can do the work, I think they are willing to give you a chance."

This is at once a confusing and exhilarating moment in American politics, which is explored in this issue by Jonathan Alter, Holly Bailey, Karen Breslau, Eleanor Clift, Sarah Elkins, Howard Fineman, Sarah Kliff, Matthew Philips, Andrew Romano, Suzanne Smalley, Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe—with photographs by Christopher Anderson,Khue Bui,Charles Ommanney and Jonathan Torgovnik. (And on, including video from Tammy Haddad and Jennifer Molina).

If Senator Clinton ultimately loses the nomination to Obama, historians should study Charlie Rose's December 2007 interview with Bill Clinton as evidence of the Clintons' anxiety about and anger at the Obama challenge. "If you listen to the people who are most strongly for [Obama]," Clinton told Rose, "they say, basically, we have to throw away all these experienced people because they've been through the wars of the 1990s … and what we want is somebody who started running for president a year after he became a senator because he is fresh, he is new, he has never made a mistake and he has massive political skills. And we're willing to risk it."

The Republican Party was engaged in its own kind of risky business last week when Mike Huckabee emerged as the winner in Iowa. As Howard Fineman points out, though, you reap what you sow, and Huckabee is, in a way, the apotheosis of the GOP's longtime cultivation of religious conservatives. Sixty percent of the Republicans voting in Iowa were evangelical Christians; how the former Arkansas governor and minister does when that number is lower has much of the GOP watching—to put it mildly—with great care. We will be here watching, too.