Well, that might be a stretch. But the consensus out there is that if he didn't win, he did very well -- and certainly will only improve his standing. Mark Halperin of Time gave the newly svelte former Arkansas governor the highest grade of the bunch, along with Arizona Senator John McCain. "Overall, he was unrattled, patient, and charming -- but nevertheless still faces an uphill fight," wrote Halperin. If nothing else, he was easily the funniest candidate on the stage -- though, admittedly, the bar's set pretty low on that front.

Suddenly, at least by the lights of the national media, Huckabee is on the move. Four recent polls in Iowa show him within the margin of error for first place or, in one case, the actual leading candidate. Nationally, the most recent Rasmussen poll has Huckabee tied in second place with Mitt Romney and McCain. (In most polls, Rudy Giuliani still holds a double-digit lead.)

Still, the Beltway remains unimpressed. On Meet the Press last weekend, the bloviators (as Republican Mary Matalin self-identified) predicted Huckabee will collapse in New Hampshire. "Third place in Iowa is going to be tremendously important, that somebody either from the Thompson, Giuliani, McCain group is going to come up and challenge Mitt Romney for the nomination," said Democrat James Carville, echoing Republican consultant Mike Murphy. "I think that Huckabee is the most interesting and the best politician and the best campaigner of the Republicans, but my sense is he's going to have a hard time carrying through."

South Carolina, though, is not far behind New Hampshire, and I think the bounce Huckabee gets in Iowa will serve him well in the South's first contest -- especially after Fred Thompson comes in 17th. This blog is emphatically not about the horse race, but I think the Republican contest will come down to Romney against Huckabee. Remember: you read it here first.