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By Jay Cost

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On the Iowa Results

A few thoughts on the Iowa results:

(1) My initial impression, which I am sure you share, is that this is being chalked up as huge wins for Obama and Huckabee, huge losses for Clinton and Romney. This interpretation could be a big deal. Remember that is exactly what it is. The press is not interpreting this as "Clinton ties Obama among Democrats in entrance poll" or "Mormon Romney finishes strong second in evangelical Iowa." This matters. Watch how the press continues to interpret these results over the next few days. It is the source of information for persuadable voters in New Hampshire. Perceptive observers of the horse race should move beyond the nouns, and start looking at the adjectives and adverbs. They make a big difference.

(2) It's gut-check time for the Clinton campaign. Watching Chris Matthews et al. on MSNBC last night - they were talking like it was all-but-over for Clinton. No way. New Hampshire is the early state that has the biggest impact. Not Iowa. Iowa has a habit of picking losers. It is easy for media types to forget that because in its most recent outing, 2004, it single-handedly determined the winner. But historically, Iowa does not make much of a big ripple nationwide. The big question: will Iowa move New Hampshire? Obama needs it to. He is in second there right now. We don't have an answer yet - and history provides a mixed message. Sometimes Iowa does move New Hampshire. Sometimes it doesn't.

(3) Huckabee is going to get a big surge in positive press - but he has two big problems. First, everybody is gong nuts about Huckabee tonight, but on Tuesday they'll be going nuts about McCain. That limits the effect of this win. Second, the next contests are coming much too soon for this media attention to yield dollars, and the dollars to yield organizations that can help him on February 5. Huckabee wants to run a campaign reminiscent of Carter '76 (in more ways than one), but Carter had one thing Huckabee does not: a schedule that is spread out.

(4) Tonight was bad for Romney. Really bad. He lost by a lot. He lost by more than anybody expected. He lost after having led for a year. He lost after a monumental effort. This loss was bigger than Clinton's. He is not his party's frontrunner. He cannot afford to lose a state he tried so hard to win. Worse for Romney - McCain had already surged ahead of him in New Hampshire prior to tonight's loss. This will not disrupt that dynamic. I would not go so far as John Ellis - but I will say that he is in really bad shape. His future in this race is bleak.

(5) Yesterday was the first official day of Rudy going "dark." He has no real plans to reemerge until January 29th. Is this a viable strategy? Honestly - I think it may be. If he wins Florida, he surges back into the race. I think Florida could hold for him, though I have real doubts. A lot of that depends on who is still in the race at that point. At the least, I think this is the best strategy that a candidate like Giuliani could pursue. A Giuliani nomination was always going to be a close call. It was always going to be a victory over a divided party. Giuliani should be happy that Huckabee has damaged Romney because Romney has money and Huckabee does not. Rudy wants February 5th to come down to Rudy versus the anti-Rudy candidate - and the less well-funded the anti-Rudy candidate, the better. But a McCain victory in New Hampshire should make Giuliani nervous - especially if it is as big as Huckabee's in Iowa. A three-way race between McCain, Rudy, and Huckabee would be harder for Rudy because he and McCain occupy much of the same ideological space. Rudy would probably like to see Huckabee hold the line in South Carolina.

(6) Fred Thompson is finished. Absolutely, positively finished. The reason? He has no more money - which is the reason all losing candidates drop out. And this defeat tonight is not going to get him any cash. The big Thompson question on my mind: if he drops out and endorses McCain, does that swing the 14% or so of South Carolinians who currently support Thompson? [Update, 2:30 AM: As of this evening, Thompson promises to forge ahead.]

(7) The same goes for Romney. If Romney fades from view after Tuesday - where do the Romney supporters go? Who are their second choices? Are they social conservatives who will support Huckabee, or are they voters who want hyper-competent executive management and a tough stance in the global war on terror? I have no idea. Nobody does. The polls don't tell us.

(8) Edwards is also done, in my opinion. He can't have much money left. He's in distant third everywhere in the nation. And nobody will be talking about him anymore. I expect him to linger - but it is clear that he is not the anti-Hillary candidate on the Democratic side. The big question: where does the 10-15% of the Democratic electorate who supports Edwards go?

(9) Ron Paul remains a non-factor despite his money and his strong showing. The reasons are two-fold. First, he cannot win the nomination. Second, he does not hurt anybody. My guess is that he is bringing new voters into the process. Good for him - but he is not a player in his party's nomination contest. (Update, 2:11 AM: A few readers have suggested that he hurts McCain. Maybe he will in New Hampshire. Both probably appeal to independents. But McCain is not up against George W. Bush in New Hampshire this time around. He's up against Romney - and he has a lead. While Paul may take some votes away from McCain, at this point it does not appear that he diminishes McCain's chance of winning New Hampshire.)

-Jay Cost