If history is any guide, only about 200,000 of Iowa's 3 million residents -- or about half the population of Long Beach -- will actually turn out for today's caucuses. Will this handful of voters really decide the winner of the 2008 presidential race, as the media hype and furious campaigning from contenders in both parties seem to indicate? Of course not, though there's a chance they could help determine the losers.
Iowa has a miserable history of picking presidents. Since the state jumped to the front of the line in 1972, only once has a winner in a contested race gone on to the presidency: George W. Bush in 2000. Jimmy Carter's presidential victory in 1976 doesn't count -- even though he was the top Democratic finisher in Iowa, more voters chose the "uncommitted" category and thus there was no Democratic winner that year.
More typical from Iowa, a conservative and heavily Christian state, are anomalies such as the 1988 caucuses, when George H.W. Bush, who would go on to be our 41st president, finished a humiliating third behind Bob Dole and televangelist Pat Robertson. This is why today's race on the Republican side appears to be between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, two candidates popular with the religious right who may soon discover, as Robertson did, how difficult it is to persuade much of the country to accept a religious conservative as president.