After McGovern used the caucus system to his advantage in 1972, former President Carter, an unknown peanut farmer from Georgia, ran a low-budget caucus campaign in Iowa in 1976. Carter used his second-place finish to go on to win the Democratic nomination.
The Iowa caucus isn't a surefire presidential campaign kingmaker. Iowa caucus winners who failed to win the nomination: Republicans George H.W. Bush in 1980 and Bob Dole in 1988; Democrats include Dick Gephardt in 1988 and Tom Harkin in 1992.
Peter Rogers, 48, of Marshalltown, Iowa, a veteran GOP caucus chair, said he expects some of his neighbors to rigorously debate the merits of the Republican candidates.
"For some people, that's the only thing they come for," said Rogers, who has been involved in the Iowa GOP caucuses for more than a decade.
"It is the ultimate in grass-roots politics," Rogers said. "It's really a neighborhood kitchen-table type of thing."
At the Marshall County caucus meeting, Rogers and his co-chair will lead caucus-goers to elect local representatives for a county convention and central committee and will decide on the party platform and poll on the GOP presidential candidates.
"In Iowa with the caucus process, you're actually sitting down and laying the groundwork for what your party stands for," Rogers said.
"It begins in nearly 2,000 precincts throughout the state of Iowa by people coming together and thinking, deciding what they think needs to be a part of the platform that speaks to what it is to be a Republican in the state of Iowa for the year 2008," he said.
But unlike the Democratic caucuses, there is no viability threshold.
"If you've got 15 people there, and you have 15 candidates, you could have 15 different outcomes for the same precinct," Rogers said.
Mary Tiffany of the Republican Party of Iowa argued the GOP caucuses' "one head, one vote" system is more democratic than the Democratic caucuses.
"To us, ours is a 100 percent democracy where every single vote counts even if you're in the minority," she said.
Tiffany said she is worried the earlier-than-ever caucus date could affect caucus turnout.
"It's kind of at an odd time since New Year's is that Monday and so people have Tuesday off and so you may have people that take the whole week off," Tiffany said.
"But I think that the caucus-goers that are planning to caucus right now will, regardless of the date," she said.
Dodder predicted his caucus-goers will show up because of the high interest in the 2008 presidential race, and the expectation, he said, that Democrats have a chance to win back the White House.
"There is a commitment to this in Iowa. We take pride that we can do this for the nation."