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Sunday, December 30, 2007

A brief history of the Iowa caucus

1800s: Iowa political leaders adopted a caucus system even before the region became a state in 1846. The state's first caucuses were held in mid-spring, in the middle of the national presidential nominating schedule.

1916: Iowa held its first and only primary election. Only 25 percent of registered voters showed up. Iowa reverted back to its caucus system.

1972: Iowa's Democratic Party moved its caucus date forward, positioning the caucus ahead of the New Hampshire primary and making it the first nominating event in the nation. Sen. Edward Muskie of Maine, the front-runner, beat Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota by less of a margin than expected. McGovern went on to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

1976: A little-known Democratic governor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, campaigned heavily in the state and wound up coming in second to "uncommitted." That almost-win positioned Carter to later take the Democratic nomination. Republicans moved up their primary to make the Iowa caucuses a bipartisan national event. President Gerald Ford narrowly beat Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. Ford later won the Republican nomination, but lost the presidency to Carter.

1980: Carter was the incumbent president, and he beat Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Ronald Reagan, meanwhile, did not focus heavily on Iowa. But his GOP competition, George H.W. Bush, did, and won the GOP contest. Reagan ultimately beat Carter. By this time, the media began relying on results in Iowa as an indicator of how the race would turn out.

1984: Reagan, the incumbent president, was unopposed. On the Democratic side, it was a wide open race, with Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, former Vice President Walter Mondale, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. John Glenn of Ohio facing off. Mondale, who won the Iowa caucuses, was ultimately the Democratic nominee. Reagan defeated him in the general election.

1988: An open race in Iowa and one that ultimately had no bearing on who both parties' nominees would be. On the Republican side, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas beat televangelist Pat Robertson and then-Vice President George Bush in the caucuses, but Bush ultimately became the nominee. He also ultimately beat Democratic nominee Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who came in third to Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri in the caucuses.

1992: Incumbent President George Bush was unopposed among Republicans, and any competitiveness in Iowa was rendered moot by the candidacy of Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a beloved figure in the state. With him running, few other Democrats even bothered to compete. Bill Clinton went on to win the presidency.

1996: Democrat Clinton was the incumbent, and unopposed. Among Republicans, Bob Dole beat Pat Buchanan. Clinton beat Dole later that year in the general election.

2000: Iowa winners Al Gore and George W. Bush went on to win their party's nomination. Bush, the Republican, won the general election.

2004: Despite a surge in popularity from Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Democrat John Kerry, who'd previously lagged in polls, won the caucuses. John Edwards came in second. Kerry went on to win the nomination. On the Republican end, Bush was unopposed, and went on to win a second term.

Source: Iowa Democratic Party, Iowa Republican Party, Drake University

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