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Type of election: Caucus
How it works: All 1,774 individual precincts in Iowa will hold a caucus beginning at 7 p.m. Central time on Tuesday. Each precinct can set its own rules, but the general procedure is for caucus workers to hand out slips of paper on which the voters write a candidate's name. The level of secrecy varies by precinct. Voters must be registered as Republicans to vote in the Republican caucus, but same-day, on-site registration is allowed. Each campaign has a surrogate speak from two to five minutes, then voting commences. Votes are counted in front of the voters then reported to the state party. There are no delegates attached to the candidates based on the results, so the actual effects of the event are symbolic, yet powerful, nonetheless. The delegates are chosen later:
Precinct caucuses will elect delegates to March 10 county conventions, which in turn will elect (from their pools of delegate-attendees) delegates to congressional-district conventions and the June 16 state GOP convention, which will in turn elect Iowa’s delegates to the Republican National Convention. Votes for county-convention delegates aren’t too competitive on caucus night, and more attention is paid to national-delegate selection at the later convention votes.
Total of 28 Republican delegates are up for grabs in Iowa and they will be awarded proportionally.
Democrats will have caucuses, but since Barack Obama is essentially unopposed for the party nomination, the focus will be on a videoconference with the president and then congressional and other races.
Official election results: Iowa Secretary of State
Republican candidates: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain (he suspended his campaign after the ballot was finalized), Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Voters can also vote "No preference" or cast a write-in ballot.
Democratic candidates: Barack Obama
Previous performance: In 2008, Mitt Romney finished second to Mike Huckabee in the Republican caucus with 25 percent. Ron Paul was fifth with 10 percent. Barack Obama won the Democratic caucus in 2008 with 38 percent.
Television stations: Full list
Other websites: Iowa Caucus.com
Latest polling: Most recent from each polling organization:
Nate Silver gives Romney a 63 percent chance of winning, followed by Paul at 20 percent and Santorum at 11 percent. no one else is above 5 percent in Silver's projection. There is a strong possibility that the winning percentage of the vote could be lower than Bob Dole's record low of 26 percent in 1996.
Wild card: Occupy the Iowa Caucuses has pledged to occupy campaign headquarters and political events, but says they won't target voters or interfere with caucus voting. The above video from Anonymous suggests otherwise.
Bottom line: The state is a big momentum-builder for candidates and half of recent Republican presidential nominees won in Iowa. Finishing as low as fourth, as John McCain did in 2008, doesn't eliminate a candidate from contention, although doing worse than that is a near impossible loss to recover from. The top four should all still be in strong positions, though, considering how low the winner's percentage is likely to be.