Keeping An Eye on the Caucuses

It could be one of the most important television events of 2008.

It might also be one of the most boring.

I'm talking about the Iowa caucuses, taking place tonight. Aside from corn, crop circles and Captain Kirk, the caucuses are pretty much Iowa's biggest claim to fame. Every four years, presidential contenders descend on this obscure Midwest state to woo voters in the race for the nation's highest office. And every four years, the media descends on this obscure Midwest state to report everything those contenders do and say.

And so it will be tonight, as CNN, MSNBC, and FOX will bring us wall-to-wall coverage of the caucuses, hoping to give us our first glimpse of who will be the Democratic and Republican nominees for president.

But don't expect huge fireworks. This won't be like a typical election night. This is a caucus, not a primary.

What's the difference? Well, a primary is when people go to the polls and vote for the candidate they like the best. And at the end of the night, they show who got the most votes and won the election.

But a caucus is a horse of a different color. Officially, a caucus is a gathering of party activists who meet on a county by county basis to select delegates for a state convention based on their support of a specific presidential candidate who then....

Ahhh, forget it! It's way too complicated to explain. All you really need to know is that this is the first major electoral event for the 2008 presidential election. The candidates who win in Iowa can use the publicity to build momentum for their campaign and hopefully win the nomination for their respective political party.

Winning Iowa doesn't guarantee you the nomination, but it's a big help. George Bush, John Kerry, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Bob Dole all won the Iowa caucuses, and went on to win their party's nomination.

(Of course, so did Dubya's dad, George H.W. Bush. He won Iowa but then lost the nomination to Reagan in 1980, so the caucuses aren't a lock by any means.)

In media terms, however, this isn't the most riveting television. In fact, they have a name for it. It's called "BOPSA" (Bunch Of People Sitting Around). In this case, sitting around and voting for our next president.

To turn this otherwise news snore-fest into something even remotely watchable, the networks will pull out all the stops. I'm sure we'll see snazzy, animating graphics with cool sound effects, antagonizing commentary from in-your-face political pundits, and live reports from Des Moines, Dubuque, Davenport, and heck... maybe even Waterloo.

Still, as unexciting as coverage of the caucuses promises to be, it is history in the making. What happens tonight could very well determine our next Commander in Chief. Iowa voters could break the three-way horse race on the Democratic side between Clinton, Obama and Edwards. And on the Republican side, the caucus could make or break it or Romney, Huckabee or Giuliani.

So before you flip over to Celebrity Apprentice or Without a Trace tonight, take a few minutes to tune in to what's happening in Iowa.

Seriously, when else are you going to care what's happening there?


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Ethan Morris: "Not always right, but never in doubt." Go ahead and write me.