Of the mid-range finishers, Ron Paul won the loudest bragging rights.
The obvious "winners" were Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is a frontrunner in Iowa and a number of other states, and Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is emerging as the serious conservative alternative to the consistently inconsistent Romney.
Taking first place in the straw poll matters, as career trajectory of the man who did so in 1999, George W. Bush, attests. So Romney gained something on Saturday. His win in the voting at Ames was a big one -- Romney's 31 percent matched the level of support Bush received eight years ago -- and he managed it well: by criticizing Giuliani and McCain for dropping out of the competition. With new opinion polls showing both the former New York mayor and the senator from Arizona falling behind in Iowa, Romney is moving fast to establish himself as the clear leader in the first-caucus state.
Tancredo also spent heavily and campaigned hard launching aggressive attacks on opponents who his campaign determined to be insufficiently anti-immigrant. His fourth-place finish offers another reminder that immigration is not the issue the GOP's yahoo caucus or its echo chamber in the media imagines.
In many senses, Huckabee's solid second-place showing represented an even more significant achievement. The ordained minister from Bill Clinton's hometown of Hope, Arkansas, broke from the pack of also-rans by attracting broader support than even his campaign expected. Campaigns bought $35 "tickets" to qualify their supporters as voters in the straw poll. Huckabee's camp purchased 1,800 votes but he got 2,587. That means that almost 800 Iowa Republicans who got into the event on another candidate's "dime" and then decided after the speeches were done to back Huckabee.