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Will A Romney Victory In Iowa Matter?

Isaac's already linked to Fred Barnes's analysis of the GOP race, but I'll link to it again since it has a handy summary of Mitt Romney's victory scenario:

Romney has an early-primary strategy aimed at Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He's poured money into those states, broadcast TV spots, and built organizations. Fox News polls show him leading in Iowa and New Hampshire and a close second in South Carolina.

If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, he'll have history on his side. No presidential candidate in either party has failed to win the presidential nomination after finishing first in Iowa and New Hampshire--that is, since 1972 when Democrat Edmund Muskie managed the dubious feat of winning both but not the nomination. Romney also has the best shot to win the Michigan primary on January 15. He grew up in Michigan and his father George was governor. The other Republicans have all but ignored Michigan.

Here's the potential problem for Romney, though: What happens if he wins Iowa and he still isn't the big story going into New Hampshire--because Mike Huckabee's surprisingly strong second-place finish is? The latest University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll suggests that could happen. From Time:

[T]he Hawkeye poll showed that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has widened his overall lead by 8 percentage points, to 36.2%. But Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, has gained ground despite spending just $1.7 million compared to Romney's $53.6 million. Huckabee is up from less than 2 % in the same poll in August to 12.8%, putting him in a statistical tie for second place with Rudy Giuliani who garnered 13.1%. Giuliani had spent $30.2 million as of September 30, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

"If Huckabee can motivate religious conservatives to attend the caucuses in large numbers, he may well threaten Romney and close some of the overall gap," said Redlawsk. About 44% of Iowa Republican caucus-goers consider themselves Evangelical or born again.

Traditionally there's enough media oxygen for two stories coming out of Iowa. (In 2004, the two stories were Kerry's victory and Dean's scream, much to strong-second-place-finisher John Edwards's dismay.) But if Huckabee's second-place showing in Iowa is strong enough, that might suck up so much media oxygen that it's the story--especially since Romney's victory there seems so preordained at this point.

--Jason Zengerle