With exactly one week to go until the 2012 presidential sweepstakes begins in earnest, it might be a good time to get a refresher on how a caucus works.
On Tuesday, Jan. 3, somewhere between 80,000 and 150,000 Iowans are expected to participate in the first-in-the-nation contest. All told, that's a pretty small percentage of Iowa's population of 3 million. There are approximately 1,700 Iowa precincts that will serve as caucusing sites-some will be large arenas, churches or schools, and some will be libraries or senior centers with only several participants. Registered Republicans can walk right in. Otherwise, those who want to caucus must register as a Republican at the door. Even 17-year-olds can participate, as long as they turn 18 by Election Day.
Right about 7 p.m. Iowa time (in the Central Time Zone), the speeches begin. Each campaign will have a speaker extolling the virtues of their candidate for about 2-3 minutes. Each caucus-goer is given a blank piece of paper to write down their candidate of choice. Votes are tallied in plain view. There are little-to-no debates about misspellings or hanging chads. Precinct chairs call in their results to the home office of the Iowa Republican Party.
The bottom line: The caucus is a straw poll, not much more than a beauty contest. Actual delegates to the GOP National Convention will be selected at the Iowa State Republican Convention.
The real winner? Iowa's radio and television station owners. According to this morning's Des Moines Register, GOP candidates have spent more than $10 million in advertising this month alone.