Iowa caucuses spring surprises
Kerry, Edwards top recent front-runner Dean
Howard Dean told his supporters his campaign would recover from the third-place finish in Iowa.
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(CNN) -- In an unlikely end to the Iowa Democratic caucuses, Howard Dean conceded defeat early to rivals John Kerry and John Edwards, while Dick Gephardt's poor performance reportedly led him to plan his exit from the presidential race.
The finish would have shocked pundits less than a week ago, when Dean, former governor of Vermont, was leading the polls, just ahead of Gephardt, a congressman from neighboring Missouri.
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, spoke to supporters just after 10 p.m. (11 p.m. ET).
"Iowa, I love you," Kerry said to cheers. "Last night the New England Patriots won. Tonight, this New Englander won, and you've sent me on the way to the Super Bowl."
Kerry went on to call himself "the comeback Kerry," a reference to poll results just weeks ago that showed him behind Gephardt and Dean.
"Not so long ago this campaign was written off, but in your homes in Iowa, in community centers, in VFW posts, in restaurants where you never let me stop and eat, in homes, living rooms and barns where we gathered across this great state, you listened," Kerry said.
Earlier in the evening, Dean congratulated Kerry and Edwards, a North Carolina senator, when slightly more than 40 percent of Iowa precincts had reported results.
The results at the time showed Dean with 18 percent of the vote and in third place.
Dean said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that if he had been told a year ago that he would be third in Iowa, he would have been pleased.
But having been considered the front-runner for months, the projected third-place finish was disappointing.
"Certainly, we would have liked to have done better, but we worked hard," he said. "We got a lot of great people working for us, and on to New Hampshire."
The race narrowed in the final days.
A Des Moines Register poll released Sunday showed Kerry with a narrow lead at 26 percent of likely caucus participants, with Edwards right behind at 23 percent, followed by Dean at 20 percent and Gephardt at 18 percent.
The results were within the poll's margin of error and were too close to project a likely winner.
Sources told CNN that Gephardt canceled his flight to New Hampshire and would announce Tuesday that he would leave the Democratic presidential race. (Full story)
Edwards had been considered a second-tier candidate by many for months. His poll numbers were low, as was attendance at many of his rallies and other events.
But during the past few weeks, Edwards enjoyed a surge in popularity.
"Three weeks ago I would have been surprised," Edwards told CNN while results were still being reported. "Yesterday, today, the day before, the last three or four days, we would go to have events and there would sometimes be thousands of people. People standing in the streets who couldn't get in.
"So it became pretty obvious that there was something going on. Now I didn't know how that would show itself in the caucuses."