Rick Santorum - Proving that retail politics isn't dead, the former Pennsylvania senator worked the state harder than any other candidate and it paid off. Can he ride this win to victories elsewhere? With Texas Gov. Rick Perry taking a hiatus from the trail, the Michele Bachmann campaign on life support and Newt Gingrich obsessed with attacking-engaging Mitt Romney, Santorum has a great opportunity to establish himself as the consensus anti-Romney candidate.
The Des Moines Register - Proved that local papers cannot only survive, but thrive. They combine good old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting with an understanding and aptitude for the technical and digital world. Following stand-out DMR political reporter Jennifer Jacobs on Twitter was a necessity for every political reporter in the country.
Sweater Vests - The "fashion" statement by Rick Santorum got its own New York Times story and its own fake twitter account. Will Romney soon "fear the sweater" in New Hampshire and South Carolina?
Pickup Trucks - The barn-jacket wearing Scott Brown drove his truck to an improbable victory in Massachusetts. In Iowa, it was a gray pickup nicknamed the "Chuck Wagon" (it was driven by GOP activist Chuck Laudner) that carried Santorum above and beyond all expectations.
Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn - The savvy and media -friendly chairman helped Iowa retain its "first in the nation" status, even as many were pooh-poohing its relevance. How do we know media took the state seriously? If you park yourself at the departure gates from DSM airport Thursday morning, you'll see every single political reporter in the country.
MIXED & 'MEH':
Mitt Romney - He wins Iowa by eight votes, but still can't dispel the tag that he's a candidate who can't win over conservative Republicans. Despite his huge campaign war chest and an aggressive super PAC advertising campaign on his behalf, Romney barely inched past an underfunded candidate like Rick Santorum. Romney could be poised for back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, where polls show him with a big lead, but he's got a new foe to contend with who has already started painting him as a moderate.
Iowa TV stations - They made a ton of cash in 2008, but with few candidates spending any money on TV ads, the stations were poised to take a huge hit in 2012. Heavy spending by super PAC's helped to bring some cash into the TV station coffers.
The Ames Straw Poll - The August ritual has been derided for years as a boondoggle and an overhyped fundraiser for the state Republican Party. Mitt Romney easily won the straw poll in 2007, only to come in a disappointing second place in the caucuses in January 2008. This August, Rep. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll with 28 percent. She will leave the caucuses in last place with about 5 percent of the vote.
Rick Perry - No candidate spent more of their own campaign cash on ads in the Hawkeye state than Rick Perry. On paper, the Texas governor with his Tea Party bona-fides, deep fundraising base, and successful jobs record was a perfect fit for the Hawkeye state. The reality, however, was far, far different. The debate gaffes were an obvious strike against him. But he also never settled on a consistent message. Instead of highlighting his jobs record, he decided to try and define himself as the values candidate. That all but insured that he was fighting with at least four other Republicans to try to win the social conservative vote.
Michele Bachmann - No one fell from the front-runner perch farther or faster than the Minnesota congresswoman. The Iowa native who loved to boast about her roots in Waterloo, took just 7 percent of the vote in Blackhawk County (home to Waterloo).
Local Ballot Counters - The problem with local volunteers counting paper ballots by hand, it's messy and a prime opportunity for mistakes. Combine this with a group of tired and cranky reporters and campaign supporters, and conspiracy theories are sure to flower.