Jim Gardner reports on Iowa caucuses

January 2, 2012 8:31:17 PM PST
The countdown continues to tomorrow's Iowa caucuses.

With the wind at his sails, and surging poll numbers that put him in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, Rick Santorum spoke to supporters in Polk City today, telling them it is his inspirational leadership that the country is now looking for.

Romney focused on the economy as he told a crowd in Davenport that it's morally wrong to pass obligations onto the next generation and we must balance the budget.

Because the Iowa caucuses is the first nominating event, the media focuses on the candidates for months for any development, large or small.

But some people outside Iowa ask, "Is this any way to start an election?"

Here's why:

Iowa is 91.3 percent white. The country is 72.4.

Only 2.9 percent of Iowans are African-American compared to 12.6 percent nationally.

People of Hispanic or Latino origin comprise 5 percent of the state.

The number countrywide is 16.3 percent.

And only 120,000 people will take part in the caucuses tomorrow night.

Does Iowa get far too much attention and too much influence?

Not if you ask Iowans.

"I think you get a good, honest common person's opinion of what's going on in the world right here in Iowa," one Iowan said at the Uncommon Grounds Coffee Shop in Indianola, 30 miles southeast of Des Moines.

One of the reasons Iowans like the caucuses - their economic impact.

The caucuses pump $100-million into the state and $25-million into the city of Des Moines alone.

Restaurants, hotels, transportation, all needed by the media and the campaigns.

The president caucus has become as central to the state's political landscape as the silo is to the geographical landscape.

So what is a caucus?

Iowans are quick to tell you it's not a primary.

There are no polling places here.

There are gatherings, promptly at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow in schools, churches, libraries, even homes.

As stated above, about 120,000 politically active Iowans will gather, not to select delegates to the national convention, which is what primaries do, but to select delegates to each of 99 county conventions, which in turn will select delegates to the state convention, which in turn will select delegates to the Republican National Convention.

It may seem like a circuitous road to take to Tampa, but that's how they do it here.