To see the impact that Iowans had we need to recap the polls and the standings. Going into the Hawkeye Cauci the latest polls had candidates here:
Mike Huckabee 31%
Mitt Romney 25%
Fred Thompson, John McCain and Ron Paul tied at ~10%
Here’s where they finished:
John Edwards 30%
Hillary Clinton 29%
Mitt Romney 25%
Fred Thompson and John McCain tied at 13%
Ron Paul 10%
(Giuliani didn’t campaign in Iowa so no one was surprised at his 3%)
Now, Iowa is important not because of any significance in the actual number of delegates it will send on, but for two separate perceptions it creates. The first is a sort of an expectations check. Polls are never right because “likely voters” and actual voters are two different things. (Consider whom is usually at home with nothing else to do but talk to pollsters.) The second is the much important momentum. Americans like winners and like being in their camp. Giuliani protected his national momentum by skipping a state where he would do poorly.
Now the winners and losers. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have officially left the race after failing to break the 1% mark. Americans may love underdogs but we hate losers. Thankfully, after a year of campaigning we are quickly headed towards a field small enough to fit on one debate stage.
Fred Thompson on the other hand got a boost with a higher than expected 3rd place finish. Thompson only had limited campaign coverage of Iowa, so a respectable showing bodes well for his stronger southern states.
Obama finished stronger than expected and pulled 9 points ahead of the “inevitable” candidate. Political pundants had said a 10+ point lead would be fatal to Hillary. So not quite the death blow but certainly the young Senator is starting to look like an actual challenge.
Iowa was not good for the Clinton camp. While not a fatal blow, it joins an ever growing list of mis-steps and stumbles by Hillary in a bid that few would have questioned a year ago. That’s the biggest problem with inevitability for the Clinton campaign: it raises expectations. If you don’t win consistently you could suddenly find yourself very alone. Not that it’s for lack of trying: the campaign has been through a dozen slogan messages, tried to trip up Obama with indirect character attacks, done their best to avoid any unscripted press time. But they’ve failed to find real traction as Obama grows stronger and Hillary slides ever closer to the tipping point.
Call it racism, sexism or just great hair, but Edwards -while largely unaffected by Iowa- proved that he is still a top tier candidate in a race that could shake up considerably in the next month.
Finally, Mike Huckabee. Mike won big but no one is really sure what that means. Huckabee’s dramatic surge is historically unprecedented and therefore largely a question mark. Supporters believe his momentum will carry him on, while everyone else is expecting a more “flash in the pan” result. I personally believe he will last a lot longer than most will give him credit for. Mike Huckabee is an excellent politician in a race with many who are -well- not. His Bill Clintonesque Populist appeal is much stronger than most realize, but his base will in the end abandon him. Much of his surge is from the religious right, whom really know little about him. As the spot light and campaign trail reveal more of the man and his record, Mike will discover that it takes more than being an ordained minister to win the Presidency.