ROMNEY: Did Romney blow away the field? No. Did he avoid an embarrassing loss and win comfortably? Yes. Am I surprised he got only 31.5% of the vote in a field without a top competitor? Yes. From Romney’s pespective spokesman Kevin Madden says: ” The campaigns that didn’t compete knew they couldn’t win and the ones that did choose to compete finished far behind. We won with a very wide margin, a very positive message and emerge from this effort as the campaign that can carry the conservative mantle for the Republican party here in Iowa and across the country.” But the reality is that he spent millions, by some calculations $4.5M to garner just over 4500 votes. It is a huge outlay for a state whose importance in January is now in question. A rival aide’s take: “Not only did they have to buy the votes they received, the turnout operation they have been crowing about for months was by all accounts a complete and total failure. ” All that said did he win when he had to, organize his team and get in a trial run for the Iowa caucus? Yes.
HUCKABEE: Lives to fight another day and poses a threat to drain social conservatives away from both Romney and Fred Thompson. If he can bring in some real money and develop an organization he stands to be competitive in the newly important South Carolina race.
BROWNBACK: A rival describes his performance : “He went all in at the table and came up with just a pair of fives.” Perhaps all those negative attacks on Romney backfired.
THE NON-COMPETITORS: Giuliani and Thompson likely are breathing a sigh of relief that Romney didn’t wipe out the field and the turnout was so small as to lessen the importance of the contest.
WARNING: At this stage in the game candidates negatively campaign at their own risk. All those hits on Romney didn’t help Brownback and perhaps Romney got a bit off message in the final stretch going after Giuliani on sanctuary cities. Mr. Positive — Huckabee — was the surprise of the day. Let’s see in the weeks ahead if the candidates agree.