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Iowa may be first, but it's not the only state that counts

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By Stephen Lega

By the time you read this, the results of the Iowa Caucus may already be known. The national media gives the caucus a lot of attention, mainly because it's the first official "vote" for President. 

The caucus isn't the same as a primary, but still it's something. But what does it tell us? Looking back on the history of the event I can definitively say: I don't know. 

In 1972 and 1976, uncommitted received the most votes for the Democrats. Edward Muskie was second in 1972, and Jimmy Carter was second in 1976.

In 1980, George Bush won the Republican caucus. He would go on to serve as vice-president under Ronald Reagan. In 1988 - the year he did win the Presidency - Bush was third in the caucus behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson.

Back to the Democratic side, Walter Mondale won the caucus in 1984, and went on to become the nominee, but the 1988 nominee, Michael Dukakis, finished third behind Dick Gephardt and Paul Simon (the senator, not the singer).

In 1992, Bill Clinton finished fourth in the caucus with a measly 2.8 percent of the vote before going on to win the nomination and two terms as President. It's worth noting that Tom Harkin, a senator from Iowa, won 76.4 percent of the caucus that year. Clearly, Harkin had home court advantage, which may be why Clinton's low result didn't hurt his campaign.

More recently, the caucus has had a better track record. Since 1996, Al Gore, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have won their respective party caucuses. All but Huckabee went on to become the nominee.

In many cases a poor showing in the caucus can also result in campaign donations drying up. Clinton is the most glaring exception to this.

A bad result in Iowa isn't a death blow to a campaign, but if that's combined with a similar performance in New Hampshire, then you can pretty easily identify which candidates won't make it to the finish line.

President Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee. It's rare for politicians to challenge the incumbent within their own party.

In the meantime, the Republicans have been arguing about who is best-suited to unseat the incumbent. The reality is that a lot can happen between now and November, and trying to predict what voters will do then (or how many will go to the polls) is far from certain.

Personally, I think the biggest factor will be the state of the economy during the coming year. If it improves, that will favor Obama. If it stays the same or gets worse, that will favor the challenger or challengers. There is talk once again about a possible third party candidate gaining traction.

The Presidential winner also tends to have coattails, so Republican hopes for winning control of the Senate are tied to the nominee at the top of their ticket. Likewise, Democrats, who wish to make gains in the House of Representatives will benefit if the Obama Administration's policies yield positive results.

Regardless of who or how many challenge Obama, I think I can safely make a few predictions. 

All the candidates will seem to forget the Constitutional limitations of their office and make promises, although they will only be able to fulfill them with the cooperation of Congress.

Although they aren't allowed to officially be part of any campaign, the so-called "superpacs" will find ways to portray both candidates as something much, much worse than they actually are. 

Candidates and their supporters will greatly exaggerate the significance of this year's election. 

As we get closer to the Kentucky primary and the campaign ads begin to arrive on our airwaves, you may want to purchase a few trash bags. With all the mud that will be slung, it could get messier than a Gallagher show.