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On Monday, February 1, the residents of Iowa became the first in the nation to vote for the candidate they believe most suited to be the nominee for the upcoming Presidential elections. The record 186,000 Republican voters were almost evenly split in their choice. Ted Cruz won by a slight margin garnering 27.6% of the votes with Donald Trump and Marco Rubio coming in at 24.3% and 23.1%, respectively. Ben Carson was a distant fourth with 9.3% and Rick Santorum and Jim Gilmore received no votes!
For the Democrats, the race between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was so close that in many precincts, the winner had to be decided by a coin toss. At the end of the day, Ms. Clinton managed to edge ahead with a razor thin margin of 0.3% (49.9% vs. 49.6%)!
Winning the Iowa caucus as it is called, does not bring the candidate any closer to being his/her party's official nominee for the Presidency. That decision is made by the delegates that represent the residents of each state at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions that will be held in July.
Nevertheless, the opinion of the people of this tiny state is considered extremely crucial. A win or loss in Iowa has been known to make or break the aspirations of a Presidential hopeful. Experts believe that this is partly because the Iowa caucus is the first real indication of a candidate's popularity. If he/she fails to do well in Iowa and in the New Hampshire primary elections that take place next week, they often lose the support of their financiers.
Also, since the winners receive more press and media time, it gives them lots of opportunities to sway the opinion of the voters in other states and receive additional campaign funding. However, the most significant impact of the Iowa caucus according to Lara Brown, the author of 'Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants,' is that it reduces the number of candidates. That's because those that do poorly in Iowa usually throw in the towel and convince their followers to align themselves with other candidates.
That certainly was the case on Monday. About two and a half hours after the caucuses began, Mike Huckabee decided to withdraw his bid for the Republican nomination. Shortly after, former Maryland Governor Mike O' Malley ended his presidential campaign as well.
In addition to the being the first, Iowa is also known for its unconventional voting method. Unlike other states where voters cast their ballots at conveniently situated locations, Iowans have to attend a caucus. For those not familiar with the term, a caucus is a meeting of members of a particular party to decide policy or select candidates. On Monday over 1,681 such gatherings took place in various churches, town halls, schools, and even basements across Iowa.
Though each meeting begins with the candidate or a representative giving a short speech to convince undecided voters, what happens next depends on whether it is a gathering of Republicans or Democrats. Members of the former party can just cast their ballots and leave.
Democrats, on the other hand, stand in groups to indicate support for a particular candidate and are then physically counted. Candidates that do not receive the required number of voters are eliminated. His/her followers can either pledge their support for another candidate or just abstain. The votes from each caucus are added before the winners are announced.
So how good are Iowans at representing the nation's voters? We would say pretty good given that that since 1972, no Democrat or Republican candidate who finished worse than fourth place in this Midwestern state has been able to win the Presidency!