Mitt Romney won his anticipated victory in the Iowa Straw Poll, with 32 percent and 4,500 votes, but fell short of expectations. Ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, with 18 percent, exceeded them, and is the man of the hour to the political press.
The results from Ames, and South Carolina's decision to move its primary to Jan. 19, are fraught with portent for the GOP and the party's hopes of holding the White House.
First, the turnout at Ames, with 14,000 voting, was modest, in comparison to 1999, when George Bush finished first with 7,500 votes out of 23,000 cast.
The diminished turnout suggests the GOP is not as hungry as it was when Bill Clinton was ending his second term, or as excited as it was about its candidates or prospects.
Second, the 18 percent showing by Huckabee and the 15 percent by Sen. Sam Brownback mean both will be in the race to January. And, as both are strong social conservatives competing for the pro-life and Christian vote, both will be jostling each other -- and both will be tearing down Mitt Romney's credentials as a social conservative.
That Huckabee came in a strong second and Brownback a close third, however, is not bad news for Mitt. It means both will be in the race until January, and neither can wholly unite pro-life and Christian voters against him. As they split the vote in Ames, they will likely split it in January, to Romney's benefit.
There is other good news for Romney in the returns from Ames. Because his victory was not overwhelming, because Huckabee made a strong showing, the Iowa race -- with its prospect of an upset -- becomes far more interesting to the national and world press.
Here is where the new calendar comes in.
As South Carolina has moved its primary to Jan. 19, New Hampshire will move up to Jan. 12 or before, and Iowa, which has said it will hold the caucuses in the new year, will thus have to hold them in the first week and perhaps the first few days of January.
This means the national and world press, a day after Christmas, will be heading for Iowa and camping out to cover the GOP race, as well as the Clinton-Obama-Edwards showdown that same day.
Especially if the GOP race appears close, the coverage of the candidates -- particularly Romney and Huckabee -- will be intense. Left out of that coverage will be any GOP candidate not competing in Iowa.
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