DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- It won't be too long until the Iowa caucuses start, and presidential candidates are urging voters to get out to the meetings -- and take their friends with them. Democrat John Edwards has jettisoned his usual anti-corporate speech to urge people in Iowa City to make calls and talk to their friends. And most of all, he said, "Don't be late." Republican Mike Huckabee told a crowd in Burlington that voting is about "believing in a cause." And after speaking to various crowds during his own heavy campaigning, Democrat Barack Obama says he feels great, but hinted that his throat isn't holding up to the strain. The candidates say anything is possible in the race, especially since many voters are still undecided. Some voters are caucusing strategically. One moderate Republican says she and two friends will be supporting Obama as an "anti-Hillary" vote. The candidates won't be able to follow when Iowans meet at nearly 1,800 precincts across the state tonight, and there will be little time for rest afterward. New Hampshire holds the nation's first primary next Tuesday. Republican Rudy Giuliani, trailing in Iowa and New Hampshire, is now focusing on Florida's primary at the end of the month and is planning to attend an event outside Miami tonight.
Some questions and answers about the Jan. 3rd caucuses: What is a caucus? -- It's a party meeting at the precinct level at which citizens express their candidate preferences and pick delegates to their county conventions. The Iowa meetings are held in each of the state's nearly 1,800 precincts. They typically draw anywhere from a handful of people in rural areas to hundreds in suburban areas. Who takes part? -- Anyone old enough to vote in the November general election and is a member of the party is eligible. Traditionally, only a small number of Iowans show up. This year, about 120,000 to 150,000 people are expected to vote in the Democratic caucuses, while 80,000 to 90,000 are likely to participate in the GOP contest. Why is it politically significant? -- The caucus vote is considered a sign of a candidate's organizational strength. Each candidate courts politicians and activists at the state and local level in hopes of getting strong numbers of supporters to show up and participate. At the same time, the event allows candidates to develop and hone their message before relatively small groups. What happens next? -- Delegates chosen at the caucuses go to the county convention later in the year. There, the field is winnowed and delegates are chosen for the district convention. This happens again at district meetings and again at the state convention, where delegates are named to attend the party's national convention. Why are the numbers different? -- The Republicans essentially hold a straw poll -- a head count -- at their precinct caucuses, reporting real numbers. One head, one vote. -- The Democrats do not report straight numbers, but use a mathematical formula to determine support for a candidate in percentages. A candidate must have the support of 15 percent of those present at any meeting, precinct caucuses through the state convention, to remain "viable." Will there be exit polls in Iowa? -- Yes. The Associated Press and the television networks will survey voters as they enter caucus sites. Those surveys will give insight into what issues and qualities motivated Iowans to vote for a specific candidate. How did the Iowa caucuses get started? -- A commission appointed after the riots disrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention recommended proportionate representation and affirmative action. Iowa Democrats decided to use new rules in 1972, adopting a rule that there must be a month between the various events -- the caucuses, county, district, state and national conventions. The caucuses therefore can be held as early as January.
A look at Iowa, the state that launches the 2008 presidential nominating season: DELEGATES: 45 Democratic pledged delegates, 40 Republican (unofficial totals) ELECTORAL VOTES: 7 2004 PRESIDENTIAL RESULTS: George W. Bush, 50 percent; John Kerry, 49.3 percent REGISTERED VOTERS: Republican, 574,571 Democratic, 600,572 Undeclared, 737,054 EDUCATION: High school graduate: 86.1 percent Bachelor's degree: 21.2 percent Advanced degree: 7.4 percent WORK FORCE Professional and related: 19.1 percent. Service: 16 percent. Management, business and financial: 13.5 percent. Manufacturing: 15.7 percent. ECONOMY Gross state product: about $124 billion - Real estate and rental and leasing: $11.3 billion. - Manufacturing: $26.1 billion - Government: $14.3 billion. - Health care and social assistance: $8.1 billion. - Retail Trade: $7.5 billion - Finance and insurance: $15.1 billion - Professional and technical services: $3.8 billion NUMBERS: Population: 2,982,085 Median age: 37.8 Percentage of population 65 and over: 14.7 percent Percentage of population 85 and over: 2.3 percent Race: 94.9 percent white, 2.3 percent black, 1.4 percent Asian, 3.7 percent Hispanic or Latino origin. Median household income: $42,865 Families below poverty level: 7.3 percent Homeownership rate: 72.3 percent Language other than English spoken at home: 5.8 percent Sources: 2006 Census QuickFacts est., 2005 Census QuickFacts, 2004 Census QuickFacts, 2000 Census QuickFacts, 2006 Census American Community Survey, Iowa Secretary of State figures updated Nov. 1, 2007, federal Bureau of Economic Analysis 2006 statistics, Iowa Department of Economic Development 2007 figures. (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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