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 TIME on politics TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and TIME

For Iowans, the caucuses are 'true democracy' in action

By Ian Christopher McCaleb/CNN

January 7, 2000
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Any politically savvy Iowan will tell you that the state's caucuses -- those little-understood, somewhat convoluted small-scale meetings of state party members that are the earliest shows of confidence in Republican and Democratic presidential candidates -- represent the American democratic system in perhaps its purest form.

On the evening of January 24, Democrats, Republicans and possibly even some members of the Reform Party will assemble in designated conference rooms, meeting houses and private homes to hash out their state party strategies.

They'll discuss the perceived merits and faults of each of their respective parties' presidential hopefuls -- six on the Republican side, two for the Democrats. They'll begin the discussions that will lead weeks later to the creation of the state GOP and Democratic platforms. They'll appoint delegates to the upcoming state county party conventions and they'll vote for their preferred presidential candidates.

All that ambitious activity will take place in one nationally televised night.

And come the end of the evening, all roads will lead away from Iowa for the presidential hopefuls, each of whom will have been given a first, though rather incomplete glimpse at where they may stand.

That glimpse will be incomplete because the Iowa caucuses represent only the first in a very long line of preliminary election season events, and because the Iowa caucus is not characterized by a normal, 'rush into and out of the voting both' polling procedure. This isn't a primary -- it's much more complicated, and to some observers, it's also much more entertaining.

This, in an oversimplified nutshell, is how it works: Hawkeye State Republicans and Democrats have already reserved their gathering places for the night. Some will set up camp in school gymnasiums, others in banquet rooms or meeting halls, still others in some gracious host's living room.

McCain
Sen. John McCain  

Rather than just vote, these party members will do something that doesn't officially happen during state primaries -- they'll discuss the issues and engage in tough debates centered on which of the presidential candidates best addresses those issues.

Of course, the amount of time each candidate has spent in the state in the weeks leading up to the caucuses will bear a great deal of weight with Iowa's voters, who do not take snubs of the caucus process lightly. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, whose campaign strategy has been to virtually ignore Iowa and focus on the New Hampshire primary, may endure the sting of Iowa Republicans who feel scorned.

Despite McCain's meteoric rise in New Hampshire and other states, Texas Governor George W. Bush and millionaire publisher Steve Forbes would appear to be more to the liking of most Iowa Republicans, who have also have not forgiven McCain for his negative stance on ethanol -- a fuel substitute that means big bucks to many Iowa farmers.

Bush
Gov. George W. Bush  

The caucus voting method differs according to party. Iowa Republicans prefer a more formal straw vote, while some Democratic gatherings may express their will with a simple show of hands, or by breaking large groups of people into smaller groups based on candidate preference.

For Iowans, the four-year presidential cycle is deadly serious business that doesn't end when the caucus is over. And, state party members routinely post impressive showings. The Iowa Democratic Party estimated that some 25,000 members turned up for the 1996 caucuses, while the Iowa GOP counted over 95,000 party faithful who participated four years ago.

The caucuses are only the beginning of a year's worth of political activity for Iowans, despite the fact that the candidates and members of the media will likely be on planes bound for Manchester, New Hampshire on the morning of January 25th, their minds focused on the possible prizes that could await them in the Granite State.

Iowa county delegates will assemble shortly after the caucus ruckus dies down. Each of the state's 99 county conventions will nominate delegates to the state party conventions, where later in the year state party platforms will be developed, and delegates to the national party conventions will be chosen.


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THE STATES

Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? Find out with these state political and election facts.


WHAT'S AT STAKE

What's at stake in Election 2000
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CANDIDATE BIOS

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CALENDAR

See how quickly the primary and caucus season will take off with this calendar.


WHO'S IN-WHO'S OUT

Who is running, who isn't running and who has already dropped out? Check out our tally sheet.


RACES

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FOLLOW THE MONEY

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