What really happened in Iowa: a closer look at the Iowa Caucuses

Counting votes late into the night, a close tie for first place emerged from the Republican Party of Iowa in its first-in-the-nation presidential nominating caucus. Mitt Romney emerged with the most votes at 30,015, but just barely, with Rick Santorum trailing by a mere eight votes at 30,007. Ron Paul finished a strong third place with 26,219 votes followed by Newt Gingrich in a distant fourth with 16,251. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann headed up the bottom tier in fifth and sixth place respectively. Bachmann has subsequently announced that she will be dropping out of the race, while Perry claims that he will focus on South Carolina (after New Hampshire).

Now with the “horse-race”-style reporting above out of the way, let’s take a closer look at what really happened in Iowa on Tuesday, paying close attention to the history and nature of the Iowa Caucus in order to understand what it all means. Important questions to ask are: What are the Iowa Caucuses? How are they different than a primary? How do they work? What is their relevance to Independent voters?

It’s not a big state, nor a rich state, but by an accident of history, Iowa has ended up hosting the nation’s first major electoral event in the presidential nominating process every four years for both major political parties, an honor and a power that its government and state political parties have jealously guarded and protected to guarantee their continued influence in national politics. The irony, however, is that Iowa is actually one of the last states in the nation to select its delegates to the national party convention. Iowa’s first-in-the-nation vote is technically just a straw poll, and its actual nomination of delegates to the national party convention happens near the end of the national primary process.

Unlike the upcoming New Hampshire Primary and other party primaries throughout the nation, caucus goers this Tuesday did not make any decisions that would bind Iowa’s 28 eventual delegates to the national convention. While members of Iowa’s 1,774 precinct caucuses did vote for their presidential pick, their operative vote was for delegates to represent their precinct to Iowa’s 99 county conventions later in the year. At the county conventions, precinct delegates nominate county delegates to Iowa’s state convention, which will then pick delegates for the party’s national nominating convention. In short, the Iowa Caucus vote on Tuesday was “non-binding” and other than its effect on media publicity, does not effectively determine the outcome of the presidential nominating contest or even Iowa’s role in it.

That’s why one reporter for Business Insider suggests that “Ron Paul may have secretly won the Iowa  Caucuses” last night…

Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
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