This is a repeat of what I posted at Andrew Sullivan's blog, but here are my initial thoughts on Ames.
Tomorrow, I'll cool it some on blogging about Republican this-and-that. But, for the time being, let me offer my thoughts on the Ames Straw Poll results.
Romney won with 31.5%. Mike Huckabee came second with about 18%. Sam Brownback came third with 15.3%. Tom Tancredo came fourth with 13.7%. Ron Paul came fifth with 9.1%. And Tommy Thompson came sixth with 7.3%. The rest is not worth mentioning, except to say that McCain came second from last, and Duncan Hunter, who I believe had a presence at Ames, did really, really badly.
The first thing, beyond the results themselves, that bears mentioning here is that in 1999, when (as I recall) pretty much the entire then-declared field played at Ames (unlike this year when Giuliani, McCain and Fred Thompson-- i.e., 3 out of the 4 frontrunners-- did not)-- making a 30%+ win at Ames something very noteworthy and indicative of much greater organizational prowess and popularity in Iowa itself-- George W Bush won with 31%.
In other words, Mitt Romney, playing a field uncrowded by other presidential heavyweights, only managed to pull off the same percentage as Bush did in 1999, when Bush was competing against the likes of Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Dole (who were treated as credible candidates at that time-- Patrick Ruffini notes that Steve Forbes threw millions at the straw poll in 1999, something Huckabee clearly did not do this year, and something that Romney apparently did). So, while a win for Mitt is a win, him taking 31% isn't really that much of a big deal. In some ways, when he was competing against a number of go-nowhere candidates, you might have expected him to do better.
My friend Soren Dayton rightly notes that if you combine Huckabee's votes and Brownback's votes, you more than equal Romney's votes-- which can't be a great sign for Romney. Of course, then again, that would have been true for Bush in 1999, too-- but then as I've alluded to, that wouldn't be such a surprising result in a year when all the big dogs played at Ames, which this year, they did not.
I also agree with Soren that Giuliani, Thompson and McCain all have got to be pretty happy about this. The way certain Romney supporters were crowing about Romney's organization, you might have expected to see Romney pull 40%. But he didn't, and that is significant.
Ultimately, this is a very good result for one person, and one person only: Mike Huckabee. He may not be my favorite candidate (I totally disagree with him on social issues, and he is more big government than me), but he deserves kudos for pulling off what he did today.