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."
With just hours to the caucusing, the Huckabee campaign called for an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service into a series of anonymous letters that have been sent to Iowa pastors warning them to stay out of the electoral process. Although the implication was to accuse the Romney supporters of a dirty trick, there was no indication Thursday that any campaign was involved in mailing the letters.
Third place in the Republican race will be key, as the front-runners were not the only ones fighting hard for every Iowan's support.
War hero and Sen. John McCain of Arizona has spent most of the last several months ignoring Iowa and gearing up instead for next week's first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. Yet, while the two front-runners sling mud at each other, McCain has seen a rise in his Iowa poll numbers in recent days and his double-digit performance will likely be considered solid.
While he spent today in New Hampshire, he campaigned in Iowa Wednesday. A strong finish in Iowa could propel McCain into a front-runner position in New Hampshire.
McCain, whom Huckabee has defended during recent attacks by Romney, made the first candidate statement after the announcement of Huckabee's victory in Iowa.
McCain congratulated Huckabee, and then took an apparent shot at Romney. "The lesson [of Iowa] is one, that you can't buy an election in Iowa, and negative campaigns don't work," McCain said. "They don't work there in Iowa, and they don't work here in New Hampshire."
For Fred Thomspon, the former Tennessee senator and actor, his double-digit performance might knock some life back into a flagging campaign that has never met the early expectations surrounding the buzz of his possible candidacy. Finishing in the bottom of the Iowa heap, some said, might mean an early exit for the "Law and Order" star. But Thompson put that idea to rest late Thursday night, telling supporters that he had "another dance" in him.
The 10 percent vote received by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, will likely keep the libertarian politician in the race and could be a reflection of his fundraising success and online organization.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani chose not to focus on Iowa and New Hampshire. Instead, his campaign strategy looked to larger states, such as Florida, whose primaries come in a few weeks. He has not been polling competitively among Iowa voters. And today, he underscored his strategy by spending the day in Florida — a state, he reminded reporters, that has far more Republican voters than the total who will cast ballots from both parties in Iowa.