As Carl Cameron pointed out yesterday, only about 100,000 people vote in the Iowa caucuses, so to get 14,000 people out for a trial run is no small thing. Romney is right that if any of the other big candidates had thought they’d win there, they would have been competing. Romney’s win was solid enough to count as a win. But the question from Ames is the same question about his early leads in the early states in general–does it turn out to be real once the other big candidates begin spending big money too? We won’t know the answer to that until January, but given where Romney started this race (little known former governor of Massachusetts) he is pursuing the only strategy that makes sense for him (run to the right, try to win the early states), and executing it well so far.
As for Huckabee, he’s not going to be a top tier candidate, but he’s going to be a big factor in Iowa. His nosing out of Brownback should have the Kansas senator thinking about the rationale of his candidacy. Before, it seemed that he was going to split Romney’s vote, the newly pro-life candidate with credibility problems with some conservatives. That’s fine if you think Romney is a fraud and an unreliable pro-lifer. But now what is he going to do? Split Huckabee’s vote, the solid pro-lifer? Does Brownback really just want to be a pro-life spoiler? The fact is that–for all his principle and commitment–he doesn’t have a lot of appeal as a presidential candidate, unfortunately.
In general, perhaps the early states won’t matter as much this year, but I think it’s wrong to think that the entire process is going to stand still until a state (Florida) comes along where Rudy Giuliani is leading. It was smart of Rudy to skip the straw poll, but I still believe he is going to have to over-perform in some or all of the traditional early states–Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina–to win the nomination.