IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Iowa Caucus: The path to the presidency?

Why the Hawkeye state is so important in the bid for the White House.
/ Source: TODAY

The Iowa caucuses will take place this evening.  So what's the deal with Iowa?  And what is a caucus anyway? "Today" host  take a look at why the race for the White House starts in the heartland.

In a state where there are 5 hogs to every person, Iowa is the starting line for the presidential race.

“Iowa matters because it's the middle of the country, it's not near the major population centers and it sort of tests if you are a national candidate,” says Richard Wolf of Newsweek magazine.

The corn-belt may be way outside the beltway but voices of these Americans are heard all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I think for people to understand the caucuses, they have to forget some of their stereotypes of Iowa,” says David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register.

But the Iowa caucuses weren't always the media frenzied event they are today.

It wasn't until 1972, when an obscure presidential candidate was looking for a way to drum-up some media attention.

Iowa was uncharted territory, so South Dakota Senator George McGovern dug in and generated enough buzz to surprise reporters and elevate his campaign. 

Since then, the Iowa caucuses have been a launching pad, providing early boosts to several political careers.

“Candidates who come from small states or rural states can do well here, they know how to work an audience, Jimmy Carter of Georgia, even this year, Howard Dean of Vermont,” says Yepsen.

So how important are the Iowa caucuses to winning the party nomination?

Yepsen says, “In the 30 year history of the caucuses, no candidate who has finished worse than third has gone on to win a major party nomination.”

And what is a caucus anyway?

Yepsen claims, “The word caucus is a native-American term that means a meeting of tribal leaders.”

People get together with their neighbors in church basements, barns, libraries and schools to talk about politics and literally line up for their favorite candidates.  

Critics call the process primitive -- a far cry from the high tech world we live in today.

“You're talking about a time when many states are having Internet voting and here in Iowa it's still a matter of turning up and debating with your community,” says Wolf.

No matter how old fashioned the system may be, at the end of the day, Hawkeye’s are proud that for this brief moment in the sun, Iowa is not only the center of the country geographically, but the center of the political universe.