Say What?! The Iowa Caucus Explained

Here's everything you want to know about the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

ByABC News
December 31, 2007, 8:49 PM

Jan. 2, 2008 — -- The first-in-the-nation Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses are tomorrow, and you may be wondering what all the fuss is about and what exactly is a caucus, anyway?

Politically speaking, the Iowa caucuses are a big deal.

"The caucuses don't pick presidents, but they do reveal unexpected strengths and weaknesses of presidential candidates," said Dennis Goldford, professor of political science at Iowa's Drake University.

Thursday night's Iowa caucuses are poised to shake up what has become a too-close-to-call presidential nominating contest for both the Democrats and Republicans.

Knowing the Iowa caucuses could make or break their candidacy, many Democratic and Republican frontrunners are throwing everything they've got at the Hawkeye State.

Historically, a win in Iowa has cemented a candidate's status as a presidential contender, attracted positive media attention, and convinced fundraising donors to open their wallets.

A strong showing in Iowa could also slingshot an obscure candidate to the nomination, or even all the way to the White House.

But a poor outcome could crush the presidential aspirations of White House wannabes, making it difficult to ever regain political momentum.

The fate of the candidates Thursday night rests with Iowa caucus-goers, who will gather in Iowa's 99 counties to select the candidate they would like to win their party's nomination.

Unlike primaries, where machines count the votes, the Iowa caucuses are intimate and dynamic, with caucus-goers clustering in public schools, town halls, church basements and private homes.

Caucus-goers take their roles as potential king makers very seriously.

"Meeting the candidates gives you a firsthand personality check," said Tina Kastendidck, a Republican precinct chair, and high school teacher from Fort Dodge, Iowa.