Corn and caucuses.  If it wasn’t a presidential election year and the average person was asked about the Hawkeye State, corn would pretty much be what comes to mind, and possibly um, it being the Hawkeye State.  If you are into college sports, you know the University of Iowa’s athletic teams are called the Hawkeyes.

But it is a presidential election year, and although I am sure the people of Iowa are fine, upstanding citizens, their voting first each presidential nomination cycle gives them way too much power in American politics.  Now Iowa doesn’t have the power it used to, because although news and momentum may come out of the caucus – this cycle on February 1, it is recognized that Iowa caucus voters are not the best reflection of general voters.  Still, its influence is way too disproportional.

So how does the caucus system work?  Many people think, especially when they see the results, that the voting in Iowa (and other caucus states) takes place just like voting anywhere else.  Ha.  Not even close.

The democratic process is well, not so democratic with a caucus system.  No going to a polling station and pulling a lever or punching a card or anything similar to that.  And no absentee ballots either. Disenfranchisement at its worst.  If you are a single mom or an elderly person who cannot attend a caucus, too bad.

To take part in Iowa’s process, one needs to go to a designated precinct within Iowa’s 99 county locations, such as a school auditorium, fire station, farmhouse, library, etc., at 7 PM this coming Monday evening.  Generally, caucus night is freezing cold, sometimes very snowy.  Only the very active die-hards usually go and for the most part, they are very liberal on the Democratic side, very conservative on the Republican side.

Organization and resulting caucus attendance is everything in Iowa and if you have been staying on top of the political news, that is why you have been hearing so much about who has a good ground game and whether or not polling results will translate into actual participation.

The way things work is different for each major party in Iowa.

First the Democrats.  Without getting too far into it, after some speechifying pleasantries, each candidate’s supporters gather at designated areas at the location and for 30 minutes everyone has a chance to try and poach someone from a candidate not their own to boost their numbers.  People are then counted, each candidate’s group hoping to meet a particular “viability” threshold, 15% in many spots.

If a particular candidate’s participants fall below the threshold, they have 30 minutes to realign to a different candidate.  You may have heard pollsters ask Iowa voters who their second choice was.  This is why.

Delegate apportionment depends on precinct size, the larger the precinct, the more delegates selected depending on the number of participants for a viable candidate.

(The Democrats are now allowing some satellite caucuses in places other than designated precincts but the rules are complicated and it doesn’t help those who cannot gather anywhere.)

Now the Republicans.  Because of some problems the last time around, and in order to make things more fair, the electioneering aspect of the caucus is gone.  After the speeches, people simply vote either by a show of hands or by writing their selection down.  The votes are counted and sent to party headquarters where delegates are chosen in proportion to each candidate’s votes in each precinct.

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In the news on the Democratic side, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been dropping in Iowa and New Hampshire and a bit overall, because of a number of reasons, choose one.  Her opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is perceived as more authentic and honest than Clinton, he is considered an outsider and non-establishment – even though he has been in politics for many years, and younger voters have been flocking to him – his advocating for free college tuition doesn’t hurt.

Clinton also continues to be dogged by her email scandal, Clinton Foundation questions, her husband’s history with women not his wife – the Clinton scandal circus making some think Hillary’s electability is in question – even as she claims Sanders’ electability is in question because of his being a socialist.

Clinton is way ahead in the third voting state, South Carolina, mainly because of huge support among black voters.

Clinton on the one hand has painted Sanders too conservative because of his past mixed record on gun control legislation (Vermont has a vibrant hunter population), yet too liberal on health care because of his wish for a single-payer system.

The gun issue could be a problem for Sanders, but making him seem too conservative, or criticizing him for desiring a single-payer system when most Democrats want that as well, will not work with a left-winger like Sanders in an increasingly left-wing party.

Also, until this latest drop in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls, Clinton distanced herself from President Obama especially in foreign policy.  Now she is embracing him as she tries to halt Sanders’ momentum.

I think Clinton might be panicking too early because she does hold a very big lead in national polls and a huge lead among pledged “superdelegates” – present and former elected officials and party operatives who become convention delegates not by being elected in any way, but simply because of well, who they are.  (Bill Clinton is one.  Gee, I wonder how he will vote.)

It is interesting (and hypocritical) that the party which seems to care so much about voter disenfranchisement would allow such an undemocratic choosing of delegates.

2,382 delegates are needed out of 4,763 to clinch the Democratic nomination (the numbers may change), and 712 of them are superdelegates.  They can always change their minds, but even before one vote is cast, estimates are that Hillary Clinton has over 60% of them pledged to her.

I believe the Sanders campaign has yet to complain about this, as it has about other processes that have favored Clinton, because it thinks it may be able to turn the numbers toward Sanders.  But look for protests if the race is close through the process and it looks like unelected politicos might be making the nomination decision.

The current RCP average of polls for Iowa on the Democratic side shows Sanders ahead by 0.2%. There is some doubt that enthusiasm for Sanders will translate into enough caucus goers.  If I had to bet at this point, and things can and will change daily, Clinton takes Iowa.

So what is the latest Republican news as we are a couple days away from another debate (this Thursday evening)?

There really are only two Iowa players in the polls, businessman Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is a distant third.  The ultimate non-establishment guy, Trump, has now become the establishment choice according to Cruz.  That’s because former Kansas Republican senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole has been telling anyone who would listen that a Cruz nomination victory would be catastrophic for Republicans.

Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, who usually stays out of the nomination fray, also came out against Cruz because Cruz wants a phasing out of ethanol subsidies – those subsidies a big deal to Iowa corn farmers.  Cruz comes from oil-rich Texas so his bias is natural.

Trump received Sarah Palin’s endorsement which may help him among Tea-partiers and evangelicals in Iowa but really doesn’t mean anything anywhere else.  It does act as a poke in the eye to Cruz, because his supporters respect and admire Palin.  Glenn Beck endorsed Cruz and that may help a little.

Cruz was ahead in the polls until his being beaten up about his Canadian birth by Trump, comment about New York values (with his wife an investment banker and manager at a Houston Goldman Sachs office and with Cruz taking out a loan from Goldman Sachs to help finance his Senate campaign, go figure) although he is doubling down on it, and the hits from Dole and others.

The current RealClearPolitics (RCP) average of polls for Iowa on the Republican side shows Trump nearly 6 points ahead of Cruz.  But who will win?  No one really knows.  Trump may have surged but much of his support comes from those who have never been part of the Iowa caucus process.  Will they actually show up at a precinct and make their choice known?  Showing up at rallies is one thing, braving a cold winter’s night on a weeknight quite another.

Again, if I had to bet, even though the trend and the numbers show a Trump win, and yes, again, things can and will change daily, I would say Cruz pulls it out because of his organization and his veteran caucus goers.  It will be interesting to say the least.  The debate in Iowa on Thursday night might matter.

[As of the writing of this column, Trump has said he will not be at the debate because he is mad at the debate sponsor, Fox News, and one of the debate moderators, Megyn Kelly.  We will see.]

Three other candidates depend on those social conservatives now being split by Trump and Cruz, and they are former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (who won the 2008 Iowa caucus) and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (who won the 2012 caucus).

Huckabee and Santorum are way behind in the Iowa (and all) polls and I don’t see how they go on after losing big in the caucus, and I think within days of the loss they leave the race.  Carson will not lose as bad although he will most probably be in single digits, and he may very well stick around.

Some of the other Republican candidates are putting all their eggs in the New Hampshire primary (February 9) basket for now and they don’t care that they will get pummeled in a state that does not reflect their more moderate, or if you will, “establishment” views.  Former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, is also way, way back but may stick around as well.

Finally, former New York mayor, businessman and Independent Michael Bloomberg, has let it be known he is considering a third-party run, especially if the two major parties nominate Trump and Sanders.  If he does get in, and I don’t think he will no matter who is nominated, he will take more votes from the Democrat than the Republican.  His fiscally conservative and law and order approaches notwithstanding, Bloomberg’s views on gun control will make him anathema to GOP voters.

Yes, the corn grows tall in Iowa.  A couple of candidates will as well this coming Monday evening, as others will grow small and probably fade away.