My thoughts on tonight:
Firstly, we're all disappointed. We were hyped for the possibility of getting third, and we had every reason to be. No one can deny this.
However, there are reasons (and a few of them) to feel good about tonight's performance. They are:
1) Ron Paul is a double-digit candidate now. Period. No one can take this away from him.
2) Ron Paul spent less time in Iowa than any other top Republican, and he was still able to pull out a double-digit performance. This contrasts with Rudy Giuliani, who has been the media-annointed front-runner all along and who has visited Iowa more than us, who didn't even break 5%. (More on this in a second.)
3) Iowa structurally was extremely challenging for us. 60% of the turnout tonight was Evangelical: that's just Iowa for you. Obviously, this is something that isn't our bread and butter.
4) This night did no damage to us. The media didn't prop us up, and it won't pull us down after this. This leads to...
5) For the position we were in tonight, the right guy won and the right guys lost. Huckabee has little money and hasn't demonstrated much ability to raise a lot of money, and I expect this to not change at all. (And no one should, really.) He had structural advantages everyone for him here (small state, heavily evangelical, etc.), so he could pull this out without mega bucks. McCain didn't get a huge surge, and he did what he needed; basically, not have a catastrophic failure. The truth is, all RP had to do tonight is beat expectations, and with a double-digit performance, he did. He's got the cash to run a national campaign on Feb 5, and he's hiring people in the key states and building an organization in them. This is a marathon, not a sprint, despite how the media is portraying it right now. And the great thing for us about tonight is that the two candidates who have shown the real ability to challenge us in a sprint were severely damaged. Romney is toast in New Hampshire, and he's got very little probability of coming back. He can't go negative, because he's been doing that forever, and he got his ass kicked tonight. Giuliani is done; period. 4% in Iowa when he has been perceived as the national front runner from day one is pathetic. He is sliding in New Hampshire, he's got nothing in South Carolina (I know; I've seen it), and he won't be able to save his ass in Florida. The other candidate in this, Thompson, basically lives to fight in South Carolina.
To tell you the truth, we had an uphill battle from the start. We had a candidate who was a natural for Iowa (Huckabee) and a candidate who raised gazillions of dollars and spent them early in Iowa (Romney). And we had candidates who were major-league media darlings all along (McCain, Thompson), one of whom has been the lover of the media again recently (McCain), and the other of whom basically put everything they had left not in South Carolina into Iowa (Thompson). The campaign grew so rapidly that it was tough to get it together this quickly, especially in a state where we had a natural disadvantage. We won't face this nearly as much in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or February 5 states, and we've had time to build fo those states.
Now, for the educational lesson we have to take from this. There were two figures in the exit polls I found very interesting:
1) Paul was 2nd among the 17-24 demographic, and he was 3rd among the 30-44 demographic. And
2) These two age demographics had the two lowest proportions of the overall turnout.
There is a lesson to be learned here: we rock among young voters, and if we're going to win, they have to turn out. Period. Iowa is a state where older voters rule, and that is reflected in the huge numbers of evangelicals. There is not much of a yuppie presence there, and the university segment, while possessing Iowa and Iowa State, doesn't compare at all to that of the February 5 states, or even South Carolina. (Which is THE big state for us right now.) Plus, it's pretty hard for college students to have much of an impact when college isn't in semester right now. That will change on January 19 in South Carolina and Nevada, and it will change on February 5 big time. Folks, we have GOT TO TURN OUT YOUNG VOTERS! They have to be priority #1 for us. Period. College students, yuppies: these are our base. Go get them!