As the returns began to trickle in, a spontaneous prayer circle broke out at the Des Moines Embassy Suites, where Huckabee supporters were congregating. The group prayed for Huckabee's victory as well as some of his more conservative views — including an end to abortion and homosexuality.
Ed Rollins, Huckabee's campaign chairman and a former Reagan adviser who as recently as Wednesday was quoted as saying his wanted to kick Romney's teeth out, made a direct comparison between the Obama and Huckabee victories.
"Oh, absolutely," Rollins told ABC News when asked about the two victories. "People in this part of the country want change. They want change." Rollins predicted a 5-point victory shortly after the caucus process began.
After the his victory speech, Huckabee told ABC News that his campaign appeals to more than just evangelical Christians — everyone from "working-class schoolteachers" to "gun owners."
On the losing side of the front-runner matchup was Romney, a Mormon who spent more days in Iowa and more dollars on Iowa voters that any opponent in the Republican field in his quest for votes. Because of the time and money he's dumped into this first measurement of the American electorate, the expectations for a victory were high, and anything less is considered, for now, deflating.
Romney, whose reported fortune is $250 million, has dumped more than $17 million of his own money into his campaign, which spent more than $7 million on advertising in Iowa alone. That compares with about $1.4 million spent on ads in Iowa by Huckabee.
As the first reports of Huckabee inching off to an early lead came in, Romney said at a caucusing precinct in West Des Moines that tonight was only "the first inning in a 50-inning ball game."
"So, you know, you want to get on base the first inning," Romney said, "but we're planning on doing well."
After Romney's second-place finish was announced, Kevin Madden, his national spokesman, said that the campaign was "very proud and excited by our position in this state." The "investment" in Iowa, Madden said, would pay off across the country, and the winner, Huckabee, will face difficulty beyond the Hawkeye State.
Madden also acknowledged that the Huckabee and Obama victories were a clear indication that "Washington lost" in the Iowa caucus.
In Romney's speech after the Huckabee victory was announced, the former Massachusetts governor expressed thanks and pledged to return to Iowa as the Republican Party's presidential nominee. "I'm planning on coming back in the general election when we take on whoever it is the Democrats nominate in the general election and beat them," he said.
Huckabee and Romney and their staffs traded sharp jabs in the days leading up to tonight, jabbing and counter-jabbing one another daily. Earlier this week, in one of the more unusual bits of political theater, Huckabee pulled a TV ad from the airwaves that he said was too negative regarding his chief Iowa opponent, but he first held a press conference to show the ad to the media.
And this morning, in another example of political fisticuffs, Romney hit back at the comment in The Washington Post by Rollins that made light of his own carefully coifed look and telling Rollins "just don't touch the hair."