CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa caucuses, the first step in the presidential nomination process for both Democrats and Republicans, can send a powerful political message about the mood of voters.
The results also can lift some candidates and end the campaigns of others. The Iowa caucuses frequently produce surprises. In 2016, Donald Trump was the leading GOP candidate, but finished second to Texas Sen Ted Cruz. Hillary Clinton led Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by three percentage points, but won by about a half of a percent.
The caucuses, in large part, are all about numbers from how many people show up at each party’s 1,687 local precinct caucuses. Democrats will have an additional 87 satellite caucuses around the state and nation as well as in Scotland, Republic of Georgia and Paris.
So here are some numbers to watch for tonight whether you caucus or are merely monitoring the results:
Turnout: Democrats are expecting large crowds at caucuses. The record turnout was in 2008 when about 236,000 people flooded the precinct meetings to give then-Sen. Barack Obama a win over John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
Republicans don’t expect record turnout because their likely nominee is the incumbent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh also have campaigned for the GOP nomination. They are not expected to wrest the nomination from Trump, but there will be some interest in how many votes they get from Republicans who either support them or are expressing dissatisfaction with Trump.
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Results, Part 1: This could get a little tricky. Democratic candidates are competing for 41 national convention delegates. The most important number, from the party’s perspective, will be state delegate equivalents. This is the projected number of state party convention delegates that candidates will receive, based upon a precinct’s final alignment. They are roughly proportional to the number of national convention delegates that candidates will ultimately receive.
Results, Part 2: The party also will release a head count — two actually. The first will be the number of caucusgoers who align with each candidate when candidate preference groups are formed.
The Democratic Party compares it to a halftime score — interesting, but not necessarily reflective of the final results.
A second body count will be reported after caucusgoers supporting candidates who are not viable realign either in support of other candidates or in an uncommitted preference group.
Caucus watchers have long called for body counts. Releasing the body count may create multiple winners because a different candidate could win each set of results.
Uncommitted: This number may be important. If a large number of Democratic caucusgoers choose not to commit to any one candidate, it could send a muddy message. Typically, Iowa caucusgoers of both parties whittle or winnow the field, lifting some candidates and eliminating others.
In 1976, uncommitted won the caucuses with the 37 percent. Jimmy Carter was second at 27 percent and went on to become the nominee and president.
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If the uncommitted number is large, it may increase the importance of the New Hampshire primary in eight days and contests in Nevada and South Carolina later this month.
10 p.m.: When parties hope to report results. You can find results from both party’s caucuses here at TheGazette.com.
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