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Campaign 2012: Once every four years, I wish I lived in Iowa

It's not exactly the fairest form of election, but dang if it ain't the most fun!
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I'll admit it. I'm a political junkie. I have tomorrow's official kick-off of the 2012 presidential election season starred on my calendar. I have popcorn and other critical snacking supplies laid in for a long night basking in election results.

Debates are one thing. They're a taste. But elections results, election results have charts (ooooh!) and tables (wheee!). I can hardly contain my excitement.

Really. I'm not kidding about this. To me, it's like the first game of the playoffs. I live for this stuff.

I have a very tolerant wife.

In any case, tomorrow, January 3, 2012 is the official kick-off of the election season. It's time for the Iowa caucuses. These are special for two reasons. First, of course, is because this is the very first place actual votes for candidates take place. That alone is incredibly newsworthy for pundits starved for new things to tweet about.

But second, the Iowa caucuses are retail politics at a particularly entertaining level. Sadly, this year won't be quite as interesting, because the Democrats aren't choosing a candidate. Democratic Iowa caucuses take the cake for weird and funky retail politics and they're a joy (for a politics wonk) to behold.

See, the Dems choose their candidates in Iowa out in the open. If you're an Iowan (you lucky bahstad!) and you're a Dem, you have to go to the precint in person and there you'll see signs up in different parts of the room for your candidate. To vote, you actually move your body to the area of the room for your candidate. As the evening progresses, there's cajoling, deal-making, the occasional threat, the occasional promise, sometimes cookies, all designed to persuade you to openly support one candidate or another.

I would give almost anything to be able to legitimately participate in that chaos. My wife describes it as hell and fairly points out that I apparently draw my line at, well, not moving to Iowa. That and I'm an independent.

Of course, there are some obvious disadvantages to the Democratic approach. First, you must publicly declare your politics. Then, the caucus process can take hours and for those without a lot of free time, it's a major sacrifice. You have to be there in person, so troops and others not able to attend don't have their votes count (pretty much like all Democrats had in the last Florida primary), and there's always the issue of the pressure and press of the crowds.

It's not exactly the fairest form of election, but dang if it ain't the most fun!

The Republicans don't have quite the same openness in their caucuses. You still have to show up at the precinct. Unlike most elections in America, in Iowa, your candidates will have representatives preaching at you the whole time before you cast your vote. There's no lever to pull. You just get a piece of paper where you can write in Romney, Paul, Bachmann, Gingrich, etc.

It's not quite as much out-there fun, but it's still a wonky joy to behold.

Because the caucuses are the first contest in an election season, candidates spend an inordinate amount of time in Iowa, because a win gives the winner bragging rights for the next contest (and those bragging rights often result in contributions and buzz).

So how accurate have the caucuses been, particularly for the Republicans? Well, of the last nine caucuses, they chose the eventual party nominee six times. In 1980, they missed Ronald Reagan in his first election (Iowa chose George Bush, the father). In 1988, they missed George Bush, the father (Iowa chose Bob Dole). Then, for 20 years, they were correct, until just last election, in 2008, when they missed John McCain and chose Mike Huckabee instead.

Even so, with a 66% accuracy rate, there's going to be plenty to talk about on Wednesday, when we know who won.

So now you know why there's nowhere I'd rather live than Iowa tomorrow. At least until next Tuesday, when every fiber of my being will wish I lived in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

Yes, I know. I'm a politics geek. Gosh, I love this stuff!

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