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The 10 days that will define the 2016 race

Posted at 8:08 AM, Jan 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-31 08:37:19-05

Iowa and New Hampshire, two states half a country apart, are where nearly a year's worth of presidential campaigning will soon come to a head and where newsnet5 Photographer Mike Harris and I will be spending the better part of the next two weeks.

Our early morning drive west to Des Moines across the winter beaten fields and salt stained roads of Indiana and Illinois took us initially past Quicken Loans Arena, where for one Republican hopeful, the journey that will begin with the caucuses Monday will end with the party's nomination in July.

Ohio as we well know is the political center of the universe in a presidential year and  the literal one on this trip. Des Moines, Iowa and Manchester, New Hampshire are separated by 1,333 miles of highway.

If you were to mark the exact center point of that trip though it would put you somewhere on Interstate 90 around Collinwood on Cleveland's East side.

Ohio is very much a mixture of the two states -- not a reflection of either one. There's the farm belt feel of Evangelical Iowa and the progressive free spirit of New Hampshire.

That being said, Iowa -- the process and its impact -- is unique to politics since it positioned itself into a place of prominence in 1972 as the launching off point in the race for the White House.

Since then consider these facts:

  • No candidate that's finished worse than third here has ever gone on to win the presidency.
  • Only three non-incumbent candidates have won Iowa and gone on to win the White House (Jimmy Carter, 1976 - George W. Bush, 2000 and Barack Obama, 2008.)
  • And in this year of Donald Trump no GOP hopeful has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire.

A caucus is not like a regular primary -- there are no voting booths or machines and polls aren't open all day. Voters will gather at 7 p.m. Monday at one of the nearly 1,700 precincts around the state to caucus.

Republicans will vote via secret ballot while Democrats do it in more caucus fashion where voters gather in small groups according to the candidate they support.

The inconvenience does impact voter turnout, which is traditionally less than 20 percent. In 2008 -- the last year with an open seat in the White House -- only 359,000 Iowans voted in the caucus, which is less than the population of Cleveland.

"Turnout is not that high," said WEWS Political Analyst Dr. Tom Sutton of Baldwin Wallace University. "And really you don't win statewide you win precinct by precinct.

"So those delegates, you've got to add them up and one of the problems some of these people have is they have a heavy concentration, but only in a few precincts of support. This is Bernie Sanders' big challenge, whereas others like a Ted Cruz in his organization have more evenly distributed support statewide."

Missing from the landscape this weekend in Iowa is John Kasich. The Ohio governor wrapped up his campaigning here on Friday to focus his attention on New Hampshire riding the high off  Saturday's endorsement by the New York Times, along with the endorsement of eight of 10 New Hampshire newspapers.

Over the course of the next 10 days, we'll be bringing you insight and analysis as the road to Cleveland, Philadelphia and eventually Pennsylvania Avenue gets under way.