The Iowa caucus was both exhausting and contentious, but it strikes me as the evening finally draws to a close, just how good people are feeling.
I don't mean just about the particular results obviously some people feel better about those than others.
But the turn-out was huge compared to past caucuses, which means that Iowans, who demand much from these candidates, are finally upholding their end of the bargain and paying candidates back with their votes.
And the most inspirational candidates on both sides Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama won.
And even people who didn't vote for them are saying they are getting a little glow from that.
Barack Obama's victory here, whether he goes on to win the nomination or not, is historic.
And his victory speech was remarkable for its simplicity and elegance.
"They said this day would never come," he said. "They said our sights were set too high. You have done what the cynics said we could not do."
Cynics say politics is ugly and brutal. But it doesn't have to be. And perhaps Iowa proved that tonight.
On to New Hampshire.
CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES EXPANDING THEIR OPTIONS
When I interviewed Steve Scheffler, head of the Iowa Christian Alliance (formerly the Christian Coalition of Iowa), back in April he was very down on John McCain. Now, not so much.
Back then he told me that McCain had " real problems with the base of the party" and listed six separate reasons why McCain was going to be in trouble in Iowa including McCain's championing of comprehensive immigration reform and, in Scheffler's opinion, that McCain was only "borderline pro-life."
Today, however, Scheffler was singing a somewhat different tune to me.
"I have grudging respect for McCain for being who he is rather than changing his opinion to appeal to the base," Scheffler said.
"He made some overtures to us and, though he is a little weak on immigration, McCain is better on more issues than he is not."
While Scheffler is not endorsing any candidate, he made his feelings about one of them very clear, however.
"I don't see how Rudy Giuliani can win," he said. "If a Republican is going to win he must turn out the pro-life, Catholic, and evangelical base."
Two decades ago, when Pat Robertson was running in the Iowa caucus, pro-life forces were very visible and very vocal.
I told Scheffler the movement seemed more muted this time.
"I don't think the pro-life movement has lost any influence," he replied. "We've just got a little more sophisticated and a little smarter. We make less noise."
FUZZY MATH, IOWA-STYLE
I just bumped into David Axelrod, Barack Obama's chief political strategist, and told him about my earlier blog item in which Tom Vilsack said: "Hillary Clinton has 5,000 people prepared to give rides this time."
"Sure, she has 5,000 drivers," Axelrod replied dryly, "but she only has 2,000 cars."
A little humor can go a long way in this business.
OBAMA BRACES FOR ATTACK
A top Barack Obama operative tells me that if Obama beats Hillary Clinton in Iowa tonight, he expects Clinton to come after him in the Democratic debate scheduled for Saturday in New Hampshire.
But Obama is ready to hit back: If Clinton touts her superior experience in foreign affairs, Obama will remind everyone that she recently goofed by saying Pervez Musharraf was on the ballot in Pakistan.
"He is a better counter-puncher than puncher," the operative said. "And she either knows foreign affairs or she doesn't."
FORMER GOVERNOR SPILLS HRC'S SECRET
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is backing Hillary Clinton, just told me Clinton's secret weapon in Iowa: the Asian and Pacific Islander community here.
I had never heard that one before, and I asked Vilsack why that community came to Iowa. I knew it couldn't have been for the weather.
"Many of them are boat people," Vilsack said, referring to Vietnamese refugees who came to this country in the years after the fall of Saigon in 1975. "We, in Iowa, opened up our hearts and homes to them."
In those days, immigration wasn't quite as controversial as it is now.
Vilsack noted that the community used to vote Republican but that, starting in 1988, the Democrats "made a real effort to reach out to them."
"And they never forgot that," Vilsack said.
Though the Asian and Pacific Islander community in Iowa probably numbers no more than 4,000 people, that easily could be the margin of victory here. (And don't forget, on the Republican side, Mitt Romney is working hard to turn out the 22,000 Mormons in Iowa.
Vilsack also gave me an example of how the get-out-the-vote effort has grown explosively in Iowa this time.
"When John Kerry ran four years ago, he had 300 people prepared to give people rides," Vilsack said. "Hillary Clinton has 5,000 people prepared to give rides this time."
Vilsack knows I am a fan of both Iowa and the Iowa caucuses, but I had to mention one thing to him that has long troubled me about the caucus process:
If you are an American serviceman or servicewoman from Iowa fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, you can't vote in the Iowa caucus. If you are a disabled person and can't leave your house, you can't vote in the caucus. And if you work at night, you can't vote in the caucus.
There are no absentee ballots allowed. You must show up to vote. And that just has never seemed fair to me.
Vilsack responded this way: "The caucus is about the party. We want to make it a little more difficult in order to make sure the voters who show up are really committed to the party."
JOHN MCCAIN GOES AIRBORNE
John McCain is going airborne. As a sign of just how well the Arizona Republican expects to do in Iowa tonight and in New Hampshire next Tuesday, his campaign will soon charter a big jet for the candidate, staff and (returning) press corps.
The plans are for the jet to take reporters from New Hampshire, where McCain is hoping for a first-place finish next Tuesday, to Michigan and then on to South Carolina, where there is a Republican debate on Jan. 10.
A big jet is a big status symbol, and reporters like to fly with McCain.
Why? Because we all know McCain's plane will never crash.
"I won't die in a plane," McCain once told me. "I know that."
He was smiling when he said it, and the joke was that if McCain were fated to die in a plane crash, that would have happened on Oct. 26, 1967, when McCain's A-4 Skyhawk was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Hanoi. He survived and became a prisoner of war for six years.
McCain has known some tough times in his race for president this time, but he keeps on keeping on.
As Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said the other night of McCain, "He's like the Energizer Bunny."
McCain agreed. "Several times we have been declared dead," McCain said. "It's up to you (i.e., the media) who the winners are and who the losers are in the Iowa caucuses."
Asked where he needs to finish, McCain answered: "Third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. I will be happy with whatever happens."
Best results for McCain: He finishes third and Mike Huckabee finishes first on the Republican side in Iowa, with Hillary Clinton winning on the Democratic side in Iowa.
Here is the theory behind that: The key swing vote in New Hampshire is the independent vote. Independent voters can vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary, and they usually go where they can have the most impact.
Eight years ago, after Al Gore trounced Bill Bradley in Iowa, independents in New Hampshire figured there was no point voting for Bradley, and they turned to McCain in droves. This helped McCain swamp George W. Bush in New Hampshire.
A Huckabee win in Iowa would energize independents in New Hampshire to vote on the Republican side to stop his candidacy, just as they stopped the candidacy of religious conservative Pat Robertson in 1988, after he made an unexpectedly strong second-place showing in Iowa.
A Hillary Clinton win in Iowa would dampen interest in Barack Obama and give New Hampshire independents another reason to vote in the Republican primary, where they are likely to back McCain.
So McCain is wheels in the air and wheels within wheels on the ground.