Pick your preferred Ames Straw Poll Interpretation:
A: Pro-Romney: Not only did he win, it solidifies his grip on the steering wheel for the Iowa caucuses. Yes, it’s early, but the caucuses are only five months away, and right now there’s no reason to think Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain are going to see an explosion of support in that time period among Iowans. Barring some dramatic and sudden change, the first major contest of this presidential race will end with the Romneys on a stage, smiling victoriously, waving to enthusiastic supporters, and that picture will be on the front page of every newspaper of the country and will dominate a news cycle. The second major contest will be in New Hampshire, where Romney is leading the polls. Between his current organization, his governorship of a next-door state, and the momentum from Iowa, he’s the favorite to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, something no non-incumbent Republican has done. With those two early victories, he will have a major advantage in the race for the nomination.
B: Anti-Romney: Who did he beat? And he spent how much? Thirteen points ahead of Huckabee? Well, gee, ya want a medal or a monument? And Huckabee barely spent a dime. Mitt just spent a bundle to prove he can beat the a half-dozen guys from the second tier. Well, lah-de-dah. As a reader noted, assume for a moment that the FDT, Rudy, and McCain supporters stayed home. If everyone else just showed and acted as they are polling, Romney should have garnered three times the votes of Huckabee and more than five times the votes of Brownback. Instead, he doesn’t even double Huckabee’s, even though he’s spent a small fortune. He got about 4500 votes, and we’re supposed to act like this means something big?
Out-performing Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback on a stage is a bit easier than out-performing Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. Romney’s barely into double digits in national polls, and while Iowans may have swooned over his flattery and throwing money around, you can’t apply that whole strategy to the nation as a whole. He’s still a one-term governor who performs worst in the head-to-head matchups with Democrats, and there’s no way he can devote the resources and attention that he paid to Iowa to all the states on Super-Duper-Tuesday.
C: Hybrid: Good for Team Romney, they did what they had to. Winning by thirteen points tops the George W. Bush standard. But when Fred jumps in, it’s a different race, and Romney’s real competitors are the big dogs – Rudy, Fred, possibly McCain if the news from Petraeus is good, and people give him credit for standing by the surge when no one else wanted to. Also, we have to see if Huckabee really turns this into a springboard, and whether we’re talking about a Big Five instead of a Big Four. Winning Ames with so many rivals staying home (and, I would note, a lower-than-expected turnout) is like being minor-league batting champion. It’s nice, but the big leagues still await.
I’m leaning towards C.