Making Republicans nervous
US elections 2008: Mike Huckabee's Iowa win throws the GOP into disarray, and may force it to coalesce around one of the other major candidates.
Mike Huckabee's Iowa win is certainly dramatic, considering that just three months ago he was one of those candidates usually included in the catch phrase "the rest." But it's worth remembering that winning Iowa hasn't had all that much to do with winning the White House in recent history.
Ronald Reagan lost Iowa in 1980, as did George HW Bush in 1988, as did Bill Clinton in 1992 - three of the last four presidents, in other words. (The fourth, the current President Bush, did win the state in 2000.)
In 1988, when Bush Senior lost in Iowa, he came third behind an evangelical minister, Pat Robertson, who very obviously wasn't going to be elected president of the United States but who excited the heavily evangelical constituencies that comprise Iowa Republican caucus-goers.
Huckabee isn't quite Robertson - at least he has a political background. And it's not impossible that he could win the nomination. But it's still highly unlikely. New Hampshire, the next state up, is not a Huckabee state in remotely the way Iowa is. And looking farther down the road to the important date of February 5, the big states that will vote that day - most notably New York and California - aren't likely to be Huckabee states either.
So the real effects of Huckabee's win are two.
First, it opens up the race. Put more accurately, let's say that Mitt Romney's failure to win opens up the race. If Romney had won, he'd have been heading into New Hampshire, a state where he is known and basically a local product, with momentum. But now Romney - who spent $6.5m on television ads in Iowa to get just under a quarter of the GOP vote, or at least $300 a vote - has to fight for his life in New Hampshire, against John McCain most of all.
McCain has big hopes for New Hampshire and has risen in the polls there. His disappointing finish in Iowa won't hurt him much once things move back East. And Rudy Giuliani, who's been fading out of sight in the last two weeks, has new life as well.
The second effect is that the Republican establishment is going to be very nervous about this. Its members - the elected officials and donors and lobbyists and behind the scenes players - are going to start talking Friday morning about whether they can coalesce around one of the other three major candidates.
Those talks will have a new urgency now, but they haven't yielded any fruit so far.