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Explaining Early Voting States

The 2012 presidential race jumps into high gear tomorrow, with the Iowa caucuses. Then, next week, New Hampshire holds the first primary vote of this election season. So how important are these early states?
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina are the three biggest early tests in presidential politics and they're very, very different, which is what makes it so fascinating. 
 
EXPLAIN IT TO ME: EARLY VOTING STATES 

You can just go back to 2008, if you want to see how important these early states are. That's where some guy named Barack Obama, who a lot of people thought isn't ready for the national stage, proved he could compete with one of the strongest organizations in the American politics:  the Clinton family. Some of those states that are after that don't matter.  It's not often you get what we had in 2008, with Obama and Clinton, where the whole calendar mattered. Normally, after three states or five states or six states, we pretty much know.
 
WHY THESE STATES? 

A lot of people roll their eyes at the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire because they're very white, because they're very rural. You don't have ethnic diversity like you would in a California, or a Florida, or Illinois, or New York. So, a lot of people sa, "Why do they get to pick?" Evangelical voters are very important in Iowa and South Carolina. In New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die" is the motto of the state. That tells you a lot about the politics of New Hampshire. And so, there is diversity, if you will, just within who votes in the Republican party between Iowa, New Hampshire, and then on to South Carolina. If you look at history, the South Carolina primary has proven to be incredibly important in Republican politics -- often the tiebreaker if someone else wins Iowa and New Hampshire.

NARROWING THE FIELD 
 
The early states are incredibly important because often, after three or four states -- sometimes after two or three states -- we go from eight candidates to two or three candidates. If you can win Iowa and New Hampshire, odds are you're going to be the nominee. Or at least you're going to have a huge lead and momentum push in being the nominee. This can come down to little, tiny margins. Iowa can be sometimes 25-24-21-17 and the person at 17 doesn't seem like they're that far off, right? They disappear.     

DO EARLY STATES PREDICT THE WINNER? 

Let's see. Barack Obama won Iowa last time, and he was the nominee. But then, he lost New Hampshire. So, is Iowa a better predictor than New Hampshire? Well, wait a minute. Mike Huckabee won Iowa last time and John McCain won New Hampshire. So, is New Hampshire a better predictor than Iowa? The early states don't necessarily tell us who the nominee will be, but tell us who it won't be. Because what happens is candidates drop out -- candidates who thought they had a lot of money, candidates who thought they had a lot of support, candidates who thought they were of a higher stature than many of their rivals tend to drop out.

WHAT'S THE REAL GOAL IN EARLY STATES? 

The official goal of these early states are delegates to the national convention. But especially in the early states, the real goal is to win momentum.
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