"What you need to know about the caucuses"

IOWA FAQ from AJC.com

What you need to know about the caucuses


Published on: 01/02/08

Thursday's nights caucuses in Iowa combine high-stakes politics and old-style community meetings. The results will shape the GOP and Democratic campaigns and spark some candidates to drop out from the 2008 White House race.

The caucuses are such a big deal in Iowa that a musical was written about them. laywright Robert John Ford sits on the set for 'CAUCUS! The Musical' in Des Moines. The play centers on Iowa farmer Eldon Wise and his family, who the media has dubbed 'the typical Iowa caucus-goers.' Like other Iowans, they're bombarded with phone calls, e-mails, negative ads and personal visits -- all of which stir up debate and sometimes rifts between relatives.

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Q. Which candidates are on the ballot in Iowa?

A. Republicans: Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson. Democrats: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson.

Q. How do the caucuses work?

A. In each of Iowa's nearly 2,000 voting precincts, Democrats and Republicans hold separate meetings on caucus night. The meetings can be held almost anywhere - in schools, firehouses, church basements and even living rooms. Anybody registered member of a party can attend that party's meeting.


Republicans vote in the caucuses by secret ballots. The vote determines which delegates, representing which candidates, will attend county conventions. There, delegates are chosen for state congressional district conventions, where delegate to national convention are picked.

The Republicans use a winner-take-all system. Whichever candidate wins the caucuses takes all of the delegates for the state.


The meeting divides into groups, each supporting a particular candidate. If a candidate doesn't have a sufficient percentage of the total number of voters attending, its members join other candidates' groups. When that redistribution finally ends with groups of sufficient size, the delegates are divided among them according to the percentage of the meetings' attendees they represent. The process then proceeds through the county and state conventions. At the national convention, the candidates receive delegates proportionately, rather than the winner taking all of the state's delegates.

Q. What time do the caucuses begin (local time)?

A. Regardless of the date, the Democratic caucuses will begin at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 6) while Republicans begin at 7 p.m.

Q. What time are the caucuses finished?

A. Most should be done by 8 p.m. At some, people like to argue politics and platforms, but the presidential voting should be done by 8 or so, unless the turnout is large and unwieldy. That could happen with all the interest being generated in this election.

Q. How does a caucus differ from a primary election?

A. Unlike a caucus, a primary is carried out in a virtually identical manner to a general election contest, with participants going to polling place or, depending on state election procedures, voting at home for their preferred candidates. A primary election attracts a broader swath of the electorate, in part because it requires a shorter time commitment. A caucus takes longer to conduct and tends to attract dedicated party activists.

Q. Where are these caucuses held?

A. In a wide variety of locations such as schools, churches, community centers, public libraries and even private homes.

Q. Can a presidential candidate fare poorly in Iowa and still recover and win the nomination?

A. Historical caucus results have spawned a conventional wisdom that there are "three tickets out of Iowa." In every contested Iowa caucus since 1972, only once has a presidential candidate finished worse than third and gone on to become his party's presidential candidates.

Q. The weather often affects turnout. What is the outlook?

A. Mostly sunny, with a high of 29 degrees, a low of 22.

Q. What is the turnout prediction?

A: 120,000-150,000 Democrats; 80,000-90,000 Republicans

Q. What's the "Iowa bounce"?

A. The momentum gained by a candidate who exceeds expectations in Iowa.


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