The Iowa Caucuses and why they're important

What is a caucus?

(KFVS) - Yes, it's finally here. The first votes of the 2016 presidential election will be cast Monday in Iowa, the first of several primaries set to be held over the next month. And in a presidential race that has so far been nothing short of out of the ordinary, it's sure to be a day to pay attention to.

You might have forgotten we were in the middle of picking the next president; it would be understandable (and, yes, even forgivable) with the way the 2016 presidential race has unfolded over the last several months. Having been called everything from a "sideshow" to a "reality show," it's safe to say political pundits everywhere are in almost universal agreement that this presidential cycle is unprecedented.

The Iowa Caucus has been the first major testing ground in presidential politics for more than 40 years. Although there have only been four winners of the caucus to go on to actually become president since 1976, Monday could prove to be a turning point in the race.

The caucuses will start across the state at 7 p.m.. The  caucuses are run by the parties. Democrats will gather at 1,100 locations and Republicans will gather at nearly 900 locations across the state. In all, Iowa has 1,681 precincts.

Residents don't go to polls to cast a ballot. The Republicans and Democrats run the meetings differently, but essentially it's a "gathering of neighbors" where Iowans meet at schools, churches, public libraries, etc. and select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions. 

Week in review

The week before kicked off with the continued rumblings of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement he might enter the race as a third party candidate, especially if fellow billionaire Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders end up the party's respective nominees. He said he will make his decision by March, which is the deadline to ensure he will make it on ballots in all 50 states.

The three remaining Democratic candidates participated in a town hall forum Monday, Jan. 25 which aired on CNN. With the state of Iowa up for grabs, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O' Malley met in Des Moines a week before caucus date to answer voters' questions.

Donald Trump made headlines on Jan. 26 when he announced he was "most likely" skipping the Fox News-hosted GOP debate, the last debate to be held before caucus day.

Trump's announcement came after Fox News released a statement which read:

"We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president -- a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings."

So, instead of just sitting the debate out, Trump may have for once "out-trumped" himself and held his own forum, in which low-polling candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum attended. The event was held just a few miles away from where his other presidential rivals were debating in Iowa.

According to the most recent Des Moines Register poll, Republican candidate Donald Trump still holds his lead in Iowa, with Ted Cruz polling at a close second. Marco Rubio comes in at third and Dr. Ben Carson is polling in fourth

Trump may have a bigger problem on caucus day than some of his wild, showman antics, however. Based upon his ground game in Iowa, it still remains unclear if Trump has fired up his base enough to actually get his supporters to the polls. Although he has been the GOP frontrunner for months, a large chunk of Trump's supporters are millennials and many are not even registered to vote. This is also problem with Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

If Trump wins Iowa it will only increase his chances of picking up the Republican nomination; the next primary is in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Feb. 9. The latest polls there show Trump with an almost 20 point lead over his nearest rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The nominees on the Democratic side go into the Iowa Caucuses with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders in a tight race with Martin O' Malley barely polling in with three percent, according to the most recent poll conducted by the Des Moines Register.

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