Congratulations to former Gov. Mike Huckabee who decisively won the Republican Iowa caucuses Thursday evening. With 93% of precincts totaling in Huckabee took 34% of the vote. Romney came second with 25%. Fred Thompson tied for third with John McCain at 13%.
Pollsters and pundits predicted a narrow race between Huckabee and Romney early Thursday yet Huckabee’s nine point lead was not narrow. Spending as little as Huckabee did in Iowa anything over five point spread for the once lower tier candidate is substantial.
It’s likely that the massive fundamentalist Christian turnout in Iowa is what gave Huckabee his lead. Although evangelical turnout was expected it seems that pollsters underestimated Huckabee’s ability to rally Christian conservatives. Fox News entrance polls calculated a whopping 60% of voter turnout classified themselves as evangelicals.
The Romney campaign also speculated late yesterday that it would be a close race. Gentry Collins, the full-time Romney campaign manager told HUMAN EVENTS White House Correspondent John Gizzi "I hope we win in Iowa, and New Hampshire, but we don’t have to." "If any candidate comes within a few points of winning, it’s a victory," said Collins. Unfortunately for the Romney campaign — it was more than just “a few points.”
Romney made a statement after many networks projected Huckabee as the winner that this was only "the first inning in a 50-inning ball game." Spending much more than Huckabee — $10 million — Iowa proved to be an expensive inning, Romney’s strategy didn’t work in Iowa, but may not prove a failure altogether. Romney still appears to be the “national candidate” since he is likely to go head to head with Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire. On the flip side, if Romney loses again in New Hampshire his campaign will be in real trouble. In frozen New Hampshire, Romney will feel the heat.
A tie for third with Thompson is great news for McCain who spent little to no time in Iowa campaigning and still proved to be an effective candidate. McCain will still look forward to a close race and possible win in New Hampshire next week. Thompson with 13% is still a contender and scored well enough in Iowa to squash bogus rumors that he will drop out of the race.
Perhaps the wow factor of the Iowa caucuses was Ron Paul placing at 10%, 6 points higher than former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who placed fifth. Because Giuliani did little campaigning in Iowa few expected him to score well, but with Ron Paul’s fundraising successes, his small percentage has to be a real disappointment to his fervent — but apparently few — supporters/voters.
As for the “bounce” factor, there is none for Iowa’s big winner. Huckabee will continue to rely on support from conservatives voting for “their belief systems.” A large evangelical turn out in New Hampshire is virtually impossible. A win in Iowa would have proven more valuable in terms of momentum for Romney who could have branded it as a “sweep.”
Many debate the actual influence of the Iowa caucuses on the rest of the election. Can winning Iowa propel a candidate to victory in November? History has proven that there is no substantial indication that winning in Iowa translates to an overall win.
Iowa could be the first win of many for some candidates or the kiss of death for others. A dramatic loss in Iowa — like that of Rep. Duncan Hunter — could mean its time to abandon ship.
Taken as a whole Iowa is the first step to a long process that is a keystone of American Democracy, but the results from last night mean mostly that the contest has finally begun.