Now that the dust has settled in Ames, let's take a look at the winners and losers.
Michele Bachmann: Although this one could have been considered a lay-up for her, the victory at the Iowa Straw Poll gives her two things she needs at this stage: momentum and credibility. Bachmann has been maligned and disregarded as a serious candidate by a lot of people (namely the Left), but it's hard for them to make that argument now she's had such a high profile victory, especially over the more established Ron Paul. And speaking of Dr. Paul...
Ron Paul: For better or worse, Ron Paul has a following in Iowa. He has the same issues Bachmann has, but on a wider scale. His second place showing in Iowa shows he still has the groundswell of support for his candidacy, which will help him stay in the race longer.
Herman Cain: Cain had a pretty good showing at the Iowa Straw Poll, even in "predominantly white" Iowa, as the media loved to state in their reporting. He may not have fared as well as he would have liked, but he's showing more than a little financial acumen with how he fared. While others spent and spent, Cain didn't, and still managed to come in a respectable fifth place with a shade under 9% of the votes tallied.
Sarah Palin: Yes, she's not an official candidate, but she did wind up having an impact on the Iowa Straw Poll. The media coverage she received from merely hinting at coming to the Iowa State Fair was enough to draw attention away from some of the candidates who needed the attention (see Tim Pawlenty). She wound up being a king (or should I say queen) maker in Iowa, that's for sure!
Mitt Romney: He shows up for a debate before the Iowa Straw Poll, and yet he bails on the Iowa Straw Poll itself? Granted, it's a fundraising event, but it doesn't bode well for the Romney campaign to ignore one of the early states in 2012. And as an Iowan, I know there will be a lot of Republicans with long memories. Then again, after he blew an easy question at the Iowa State Fair and got visibly upset, he might not have wanted to face people who could have handled the question better than he did.
Tim Pawlenty: With two people from Minnesota in the same race, Iowa voters were split. Typically, Iowans will throw their support behind a candidate from a neighboring state, and Pawlenty was counting on a better turnout than he received, which was a distant third behind Bachmann and Paul. Of course, anyone who followed Pawlenty's campaign honestly knew he wasn't lighting things up on the GOP side. His attacks on Michele Bachmann didn't help either because, unlike TPaw, Bachmann connects with Iowans on fundamental levels. That was his third strike, and as of today, he's out of the race he was never really in to begin with.
Rick Perry: He's in officially, and...not many people care. Announcing his candidacy this weekend was a major stumble on Perry's part, and it could have been avoided if his campaign had given more thought to the announcement. Granted, there's good strategy in not announcing before an event where one of his rivals was presumed to walk away with it and his non-appearance at the debate prior to the Iowa Straw Poll left him safe from scrutiny for now. Having said that, to make the announcement when he did when the media attention was elsewhere? Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Rick Santorum: Like it or not, Santorum impressed a lot of people with his performance at the debate prior to the Iowa Straw Poll. That translated into a fourth place victory for him, edging out Herman Cain. So, why is Santorum with the losers? Because he hasn't run as solid a campaign as the frontrunners. On top of that, he's going to be going for the same voters as Michele Bachmann, but she's been out there stumping on her conservative beliefs, while Santorum hasn't. Assuming people know you isn't a good way to win over the hearts and minds of voters.
Newt Gingrich, John Huntsman, and Thaddeus McCotter: Collectively, the three of you got less than 3% of the votes at the Iowa Straw Poll. Mitt Romney, who didn't even show up, got 3.4% of the vote. Pack it in, guys, and leave it to the real candidates, okay?