Now comes the spin.
Last night's Republican caucuses in Iowa gave former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts the narrowest of victories--he won by only eight votes out of 120,000 cast statewide. The margin underscored that Romney still has a lot to prove, especially for strict conservatives who consider him too moderate.
Meanwhile, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is riding high on the strength of his very close second-place finish that amounted to a virtual tie. Both Romney and Santorum each had a bit less than 25 per cent of the vote.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was third with just over 21 per cent. This seems to be the upper limit of his support but Paul appears content to use his notoreity to make the case for a cantankerous brand of libertarianism.
It's a truism in politics that candidate spin and media reaction are often just as important as an actual event. And that's the prospect after Iowa as the campaigns try to put the best face on things and spin the results to their advantage.
Paul told his supporters last night that finishing third was enough to guarantee him a "ticket" to the next round of GOP contests, and he said his message of individual rights, opposition to U.S. military interventions, and drastic cuts in government power is catching on.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who finished a disappointing fourth with 13 percent, blamed his poor showing on what he said were deceptive attack ads sponsored by a political action committee run by Romney supporters. Gingrich is seething, and his "Uncle Newt" image is quickly morphing into "Angry Newt." He says he will now attack Romney like never before.
Romney was gracious in victory, noting that the caucuses were a win for both him and Santorum. He used the occasion to attack President Obama, calling his administration a failure. "We're going to change the White House and get America back on track," he said.
Santorum used his caucus-night speech to introduce himself to many Americans who had never seen him before or who hadn't up to now taken him seriously as a candidate. "Let me tell you--what wins in America are bold ideas, sharp contrasts, and a plan that includes everyone," he said in what amounted to a victory rally.
But Santorum needs to quickly ramp up his fund-raising and organization, and it's unclear whether he can do so. He will now face the kind of scrutiny and attacks that have undermined other surging candidates in the past, and the way he reacts will be a critical factor in whether he continues his momentum.
The race now goes to New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary on Tuesday, and then to South Carolina and Florida. It will get even more harsh and negative, with Romney and Santorum under the microscope and under attack.