“Obviously this was an incredible day and victory for us,” said former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee of Saturday’s Iowa Republican straw poll. “What happened for us today was stunning.” A curious statement, perhaps, given that Huckabee was soundly trounced by Mitt Romney — he finished with 18 percent of the vote to Romeney’s 32 percent — but then again, given the haphazard nature of the Ames event, perhaps close doesn’t only count in horseshoes.

Jonathan Martin, the Politico’s Republican-watcher, certainly thinks so:

Mike Huckabee picked up 18.1 percent to finish in second place, besting Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who came in third with 15.3 percent. The two social conservatives tangled here over the past two weeks, both vying hard for many of the same voters and battling for their political viability. Despite spending far less money to get his voters here, Huckabee came out on top, offering a fresh boost to his underfunded campaign and calling into question Brownback’s ability to continue in the race … Huckabee appeared to succeed through a combination of charm, guile and his chief rival’s negativity.

Some feel, however, that winning really was winning. “Rudy Giuliani and John McCain decided to sit Iowa out, which left the field pretty much to Romney,” writes the conservative blogger Jimmie at the Sundries Shack. “The only question was how much he’d win by. Given that he spent approximately a bajillion dollars on barbecue and pony rides, he did just about what he was supposed to do. It gives him some leverage on Giuliani and McCain, which he very much needs.”

Kyle E. Moore at Comments From Left Field thinks one of the major stories revolves around someone who’s note even running (yet). Moore writes:

I think it’s important to note how low non-candidate Fred Thompson placed, finishing even lower than the almost non-existant Tommy Thompson at seventh. The man who months ago was being lauded by a slew of conservatives as the savior of the field, the next Ronald Reagan, and the presumptive frontrunner did not back this up with performance at voting booths here. I think this can be an even further indicator that excitement over the former Law & Order star is starting to wane.

While Ron Paul’s fifth-place finish must be considered a disappointment to his campaign, one big supporter, Richard Barnes at Disinter, suspects skullduggery: “After a very long delay before releasing the Diebold results due to a ‘voting machine malfunction’ Ron Paul came in 5th place with 1,305 votes. Keep in mind the person charged with oversight of this poll is none other than one of Mitt Romney’s paid staffers, Mary Mosiman, who just happens to be the County Auditor. Convenient.”

“Now, who will be dropping out after this?” asks Brian at IowaVoice, who offers a good roundup from the center of the action. He continues:

Well, Tommy Thompson has already gone on record to say that if he didn’t win or take second he’d be dropping out, so he doesn’t count. Other than that, I’d have to say that Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo are certainly on the short list of who I would think would be dropping out soon. Both are one-issue candidates (Tancredo=illegal immigration, Hunter=China/trade), and while I like both of them a lot, I think they’d be a greater asset to us if they stayed in Congress.

Like many on the left, Steve Benen at Talking Points Memo feels that the big loser is the entire G.O.P.:

Keep in mind, organizers hoped for 20,000 straw-poll participants today, and the total was just over 14,000. Eight years ago, nearly 24,000 Republicans took part in the event. Some of this, it’s fair to say, is the result of some top-tier candidates deciding not to participate in Ames, but it also speaks to the ongoing lack of enthusiasm for the GOP field of candidates.

If that’s the true lesson, it’s hardly one that Mitt Romney wanted to spend an estimated $5 million to learn.