How Iowa caucuses work, why they matter

Author: Rachel McNeill, Anchor/Medical Expert, rmcneill@kprc.com
Published On: Jan 02 2012 04:21:05 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 02 2012 06:34:50 PM CST
DES MOINES, Texas -

The Polk County Convention Center is in the heart of Des Moines, Iowa. It's where the GOP votes will be tabulated for Tuesday night's caucus.

It's a unique and fascinating process that sets the tone for the race to the White House.

The list of GOP presidential candidates is long, as is the campaign trail.

Just about every hopeful has held a spot at the top of the leader board at some point, making the Iowa caucus even more puzzling, yet critical.

High school senior Matthew Murphy of Ohio is in Iowa with 43 of his classmates to study the caucus process.

"It gives the first notion of where the country is heading and who might be the potential nominee for the Republican party and who will face Obama in 2012, so I think there's definitely still merit in the Iowa caucuses," Murphy said.

It's almost like being in jury deliberations where behind closed doors in precinct caucuses across the state, supporters of the candidates will try to sway voters their way.

After about an hour, they'll choose their preference for the Republican nomination.

Teacher Mandy Bowen said, "What we see from the people here in Iowa is that they are more informed than most of the people we know, so I don't think you can say that it's outdated at all. I think it does have a lot of value for the Republican Party this year."

While some political experts question the validity of the Iowa caucuses, those who live here take the process very seriously and said the candidates should too.

Iowan Mandy DeVries explained, "People want to listen to us. We start paying attention to politics long before the rest of the country does and so we really take these candidates and look at them very, very seriously. We take our role very seriously and I think that's why people pay attention to it."

All eyes are on Iowa this week for that very reason.

Iowa can be a game changer. In the past, the caucuses have served as a wake-up call to complacent incumbents, think President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore.