With the results of the Iowa caucuses now in, we can begin to assess whether the GOP candidates' strategies have paid off.
For some, it's been all about developing a framework in Iowa that could, at least, prolong their campaigns, and, at most, provide them with valuable momentum going into other, arguably more important, primary contests.
Republican candidates aren't the only ones who will feel the effects of the first event in a lengthy primary season. Candidates and outside groups broke new ground in Iowa, blanketing the airwaves in massive ad buys that often took direct aim at primary rivals. The power of attacks ads became more pronounced than ever, bolstered by millions of dollars in expenditures by outside groups.
The GOP hopefuls now turn toward New Hampshire, which will hold its primary on Tuesday, Jan. 10. With some contenders down, but not out, all candidates not named Romney must now work double time to remain relevant. And while they forge ahead, there is another candidate watching it all play out from the White House.
Scroll through the slideshow below for a list of the biggest winners and losers of the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
There is always plenty of discussion about how meaningful a strong performance in Iowa is, and these same arguments will likely be recycled to analyze Santorum's second-place finish on Tuesday. Regardless, Santorum's surge was by no means an inevitable outcome. He hitched the entire fate of his campaign to Iowa early on, but his enthusiastic tour around the state took a long time to return results. Santorum spent the majority of the pre-caucus campaign underpowered in fundraising and overlooked in polling, but a late swell propelled him to the top tier of GOP candidates in Iowa. The bounce may have helped his fundraising, but it also put him in the crosshairs of his GOP rivals, who were also vying for top billing in the state. As his Iowa finish proves, he managed to weather those attacks. And while Santorum's brand of conservatism may not play in New Hampshire or future primaries, his strength in Iowa will at least give the sweater-vested former senator some much-needed momentum going into the heart of primary season.
Bachmann won a prominent straw poll in Ames, Iowa over the summer of 2011. It's all been downhill from there, despite her strategy to follow Santorum's lead and stake her entire campaign on a strong finish in Iowa. As evidenced by her sixth-place finish, she didn't get one, and there has been little evidence that the picture will get prettier as she heads into the New Hampshire primary next week. At the beginning of vote tallying Tuesday, Fox News predicted that she'd finish in dead last, and her former campaign adviser, Ed Rollins, told her to end her campaign. At her speech later in the night, however, Bachmann vowed to press on.
In the latest evidence that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is going to rock the electoral landscape in 2012, newly formed super PACs came forth to funnel millions of dollars into advertising in Iowa ahead of the caucus. The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal reported late last month: The 2012 Iowa caucus is, increasingly, not about the individuals running. Campaign finance observers have warned repeatedly that independent groups, enabled by the Supreme Court's January 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to raise and spend unlimited sums, would alter the balance of campaigns, once run primarily by candidate committees and party organizations. So far, those warnings are looking prescient. As evidenced in Iowa, campaigns now operate as political parties of one. Candidates with enough financing can lay their own groundwork for voter mobilization efforts and remain positive, while a supportive super PAC runs negative ads beating off opponents. Voter mobilization and opponent attacks were roles traditionally reserved for the party organizations in the general election, but thanks to Citizens United and the birth of super PACs, each individual candidate can now operate in this fashion. On Tuesday, Blumenthal also provided some numbers to illustrate the incredible influx of outside spending, much of which has gone to political advertising in Iowa: Newt Gingrich (R), $866,950 to support, $4,116,274 to oppose. (Support: +$600,627, Oppose: +$126,556) Rick Perry (R), $3,798,524 to support, $0 to oppose. Jon Huntsman (R), $2,233,204 to support, $0 to oppose. (+$368,248) (Above, one of the more notable super PAC ads, an anti-Gingrich spot funded by Restore Our Future, which spent $2.8 million on Iowa advertising alone)
Efforts of some Republicans to catalyze a serious push by a candidate that isn't Mitt Romney experienced their biggest failure on Tuesday night. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich had all led the pack in Iowa at one point or another, yet when it finally came down to caucus time -- in a state where Romney was expected to play poorly, no less -- the former Massachusetts governor won, despite remaining largely invisible in Iowa until last-minute campaigning. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, with their top-three finishes, will likely adopt the anti-Romney mantle, though they are widely predicted to have a tough time beating Romney in the ever-important New Hampshire primary next week.
Some GOP contenders experienced more valuable takeaways than others on Tuesday night, but The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman reports that the candidate with the biggest reason to celebrate is President Barack Obama: The dismal, nasty campaign here was not good for the Republican Party or the country. There was precious little debate on anything other than who literally was Holier than Thou; the dollars spent on attack ads were, vote for vote, enormous. One GOP top finisher is unpopular with the base; another is too far out of the mainstream to be nominated, let alone elected; the third lost his last Senate race, in Pennsylvania, by 17 points, and is far to the right of the country on social issues. All of which is good news for a president with a 40 percent job approval rating and a desperate need for a weak opponent next November. Read more here.
Mitt Romney's strong showing in the Iowa caucuses could put him on a fast track to the nomination, possibly making the slate of upcoming contests largely insignificant. Romney currently holds a large lead in New Hampshire, though his campaign says they aren't taking it for granted. "I'm not going to make any overconfident predictions about the state of the race based on what happens here in Iowa," Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said, according to the Boston Herald. "We've always believed that the nominee will not be determined by a single contest in January but will be determined by a series of contests that will unfold over a series of many months." Despite the Romney campaign's humility, the Los Angeles Times reports that his campaign apparatus -- which has been evolving there since his second-place finish in 2008 -- as well as his dominant fundraising will make it very difficult for another contender to close the gap. That said, it's still possible that Republican voters in New Hampshire could rally behind a more conservative alternative to Romney, especially with more debates to come. Enter Rick Santorum?