Iowa’s Three Losers, and What It Means for Jon Huntsman

Gingrich, Bachmann, and Perry are finished, and have only themselves to blame. Mark McKinnon on the road ahead, and why Jon Huntsman may have an opportunity to break out.

01.04.12 10:45 AM ET

Mitt Romney’s eight-vote victory in Iowa Thursday night may not have made him the clear winner, but there are three clear losers.

Rick Santorum will be the media flavor of the moment and storm into South Carolina. Mitt Romney will ride the tide out of Iowa to try and roll up the score in New Hampshire. Ron Paul punched a show ticket, which will keep his faithful energized enough to wreak havoc indefinitely.

On the other hand, Newt Gingrich may hang around, but only as a nuisance factor. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are finished. They staked their entire campaigns on showing well in Iowa and couldn’t break the top four. All three had great but unrealized potential. And all three have only themselves to blame for unforced errors and strategic blunders that threw a chain around their own axles and ground their campaigns to a halt.

Gingrich will be like a wounded bear attacking Romney in New Hampshire. He's going to be armed and dangerous, with the Union Leader newspaper (which has endorsed him) and Ron Paul helping to lead the assault. And Jon Hunstman is well positioned to take advantage.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum will likely forgo New Hampshire and head straight to South Carolina, where he will have open-field running for a week and will try to consolidate the conservatives and anti-Romney forces.

It may be heading toward the third act of the primaries, but Iowa has made only one thing clear. The fat lady ain’t ready to sing quite yet.