Do you recognize that face? If you don’t watch Fox News, you may not recall the sideways, dimpled grin of one-time Republican front-runner Mike Huckabee. In 2008, he was on a good path to the Republican nomination, handily beating everyone with over 40% of the Iowa GOP votes.
John McCain, the eventual nominee that year, came in a distant 4th.
Iowa sets the stage and can act as a wake-up call to the bottom of the barrel, but winning is relative in Iowa. One could make a case that finishing in the top 5 is enough to keep the campaign valid. Currently, the top Iowa race shakes out like this according to the latest USA Today poll:
If it plays out like the poll shows, that leaves Bachmann and Huntsman on the outside looking in.
Newt Gingrich still leads national polls and could start pulling states after Romney wins Iowa and New Hampshire, but his campaign needs a jolt of good news. The surge of Rick Santorum and the persistence of Ron Paul’s base of supporters are more trouble for Gingrich than Romney, while Perry’s continuation and deep pockets will lend strength to Romney if and when he bows out.
Iowa is always the center of attention this time of year, but history shows that it’s far from the key indicator of a nominee’s health. Then again, Barack Obama made a bold statement by defeating Hillary Clinton and John Edwards by double digits in Iowa. Maybe there’s more to it than we want to admit.
Either way, one person will be standing there at the end of the night talking about Iowa being the first step towards the nomination while 4 or 5 others will be pointing to the Iowa results of 2008 and calling for a McCain-esque statement to bring them home to the nomination.