(CNN) – For Democrats the outcome of the Iowa caucuses was a plus but no surprise: no candidate sealed the deal.
Three takeaways from the Democrats point of view. First, it denies Romney the momentum he needs to lock up the nomination early and move up the start of the general election. Even with the surprising rise of Rick Santorum, the Democrats still expect Mitt Romney to ultimately win the Republican nomination. And that's why they still focused all of their fire on Romney tonight. Multiple aides to President Barack Obama pointed out that Romney barely matched his showing from the caucuses four years ago. And his support among middle class Iowans – defined as those making $50,000 or less – fell by five points.
In a statement DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, “After five years of campaigning and adopting policies far to the right of Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich on issues ranging from economic philosophy, to immigration, to social issues, Mitt Romney still failed to convince voters that he could be trusted to help middle class families and those still trying to reach the middle class...."
Second, Santorum's success could prompt Romney to run to the right, forcing him to take positions in the primary that might be less appealing to swing voters he'd need to woo in the general election. Democrats argue Romney has already moved to the right in order to win the Republican nomination (including his promise to veto the Dream Act and his embrace of Cut,Cap and Balance) and the popularity of a social conservative like Santorum may force him to adopt even more conservative policies.
Third, despite the passionate Republican opposition to Obama, the turnout this year roughly matched the turnout of 120,000 Republican caucus goers in 2008.
Team Obama insists that's a sign the Republican candidates aren't inspiring their base. The turnout figure prompted senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod to ask on Twitter "Uh, what happened to that vaunted Republican enthusiasm?" 240,000 Iowans turned out for the Democratic caucuses in 2008.
The biggest benefit for the president: the photo finish in Iowa means the tone of the Republican race is likely to take a nasty turn as the candidates take aim at Romney. If fellow Republicans weaken the president's eventual opponent, that's work he doesn't have to do.
What the Democrats won't acknowledge about the Iowa results is the obvious: Mitt Romney got a win under his belt. And he's poised to win New Hampshire too. In politics wins add up. Even if they're just by 8 votes.