On the Republican side there are two big winners and one big loser on caucus night.
Mike Huckabee, who entered the day as the slight favorite, is on pace to post a much more expansive victory than expected, solidly ahead of Mitt Romney, who until six weeks ago had been the runaway leader in Iowa.
Huckabee’s triumph, which comes in the face of a massive blitz of attack ads by Romney, severely wounds the former Massachusetts governor, whose nomination strategy has always hinged on using breakout victories in the early states to build momentum and corral the Republican masses. Now, he must win New Hampshire to maintain his viability, but suddenly he faces an uphill battle there.
That’s because the other big Republican winner tonight is John McCain. He has either finished in fourth or fifth place in Iowa, but in the last week he has caught Romney in New Hampshire, a state that is falling in love with the Arizonan all over again. McCain badly needed Huckabee to win handily, sending Romney into New Hampshire as a wounded warrior. Romney’s poor showing tonight should have the exact effect McCain has been hoping for, and he can now be called the New Hampshire front-runner. And a McCain win there next Tuesday would likely finish off Romney. Huckabee should also receive a boost in New Hampshire, but because of his reliance on evangelical Christian voters, he will turn most of his attention now to South Carolina, leaving McCain to claim New Hampshire. One way or the other, it’s been clear for sometime that this would be Mitt Romney’s week. Either he’d make an early score and cement his status as the G.O.P’s front-runner, or he’d fare poorly and fade from contention. With his Iowa loss, Romney now has five days to avoid the latter fate.