Why pay attention to the Iowa Caucus?

In the world of GOP primary events, the Iowa Caucus is more about bragging rights and fund-raising than predicting the outcome of the nominating process. The Iowa Caucus has failed to choose the eventual nominee in 5 out of the last 8 presidential election cycles.

Iowa Caucus

The make-up of Iowa caucus-goers is very socially conservative, but generally not nearly as fiscally conservative as in many areas of the nation. This year, however, with a failing economy, fiscal matters may carry more weight. With Iowa having a far better unemployment rate than a good deal of the country due to agriculture, the Iowa caucus attendees are less likely to be concerned about their own job stability than in other states, but they are not immune to the travails of the rest of the nation.

Iowa Caucus-goers don’t represent the wider GOP electorate

Nearly half of all Iowa caucus attendees are self-describe evangelical Christians and that tends to water-down the value in relation to the rest country; yet the Iowa Caucus does say quite a bit about a candidate’s campaign skills and fund-raising prowess.

If you come into the Iowa Caucus underfunded, you might find yourself defenseless against attacks from your fellow hopefuls. Newt Gingrich came into the last month in Iowa with a clear lead and a target on his chest. The two best funded competitors, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul spent over $8 million on negative attacks against Newt and despite Iowa Caucus-goer’s self-proclaimed aversion to negative advertising they proved that even in Iowa negative ads work. In a mere two weeks Gingrich sank from the top of the polls to the middle of the pack.

Since Iowa isn’t representative of the nation as a whole, why do we spend so much time talking about the caucus or who’s currently leading in the polls? The answer is actually quite simple: What else is there to talk about after the holidays? The media is crying for news and in a national election year there’s nothing like the official start of a presidential campaign to get the pundits scurrying about to see who can flap their gums more.

In a matter of hours we’ll know the outcome. Will Rick Santorum win in Iowa only to suffer a likely collapse in the coming primaries? Ask Gov. Mike Huckabee who won in Iowa in 2008. Will Mitt Romney squeak out a win and bolster the “inevitability” factor? Might Ron Paul, totally unacceptable to the GOP nationwide, eke out a win in Iowa to then join the long list of Iowa Caucus winners that are asterisks in annals of presidential politics? We’ll know soon enough.

The Iowa Caucus isn’t the end-all-and-be-all of the 2012 GOP presidential nominating process; far from it.  Somewhere on the order of 120,000 Iowans will caucus, roughly the population of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Can you imagine Santa Fe alone deciding who should run against Barack Obama? But if you’re a political junky the Iowa Caucus is the next best thing to the Florida primary where the results matter and the weather is much more hospitable.