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What Does Iowa Mean?

Today’s caucus results matter very little—or make all the difference in the world—depending on who you ask.

The caucuses in Iowa are a confusing, and, to some, flawed kick-off to a flawed nominating system. Luckily, poll results from the last couple of days have given us a clear idea of what to expect in Iowa. Obama will win the Democratic nod, and Huckabee will win for the Republicans. No, make that Hillary for the Democrats, and Romney for the Republicans. No, make that . . . well, you get the point. No one knows which candidates will take this first step toward their party's respective presidential nomination, though the Washington Post had fun this morning making predictions. All we know for sure is that the results - and the accompanying spin, since Iowa is more about perception than winning delegates - will start coming in later tonight.

Evangelical voters could make the difference on the Republican side, opines Michael Luo on the New York Times politics blog. Romney's people are hoping for a low turnout of less than 80,000 Republicans. If more show up, that will probably mean that evangelicals turned out in force - and that Huckabee topped the Republican field. He needs it, according to Chuck Todd of NBC News; if Huckabee doesn't win Iowa by at least five points, he's done.

Not that Iowa matters, writes David Broder, since results in New Hampshire , which holds its primaries on January 8, are a much clearer indicator of a candidate's strength. Or maybe the early caucuses and primaries are just so much window dressing until February 5, when voters in 22 states cast ballots and the ensuing front-runners are all but assured nominations.

It's been a long build-up until this first day of presidential voting, the longest and most expensive in U.S. election history. At the end of today's caucuses - in a state where conservative Christians make up 40 percent of Republican voters and where pastors have evidently received threatening letters warning them against unduly influencing the outcome - we still won't really know who the frontrunners are, whether a former Southern Baptist pastor can win his party's nomination, and if "values voters" still have the electoral muscle they showed in 2004. That much is clear - probably.

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