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Why are hundreds of journalists traipsing around rural Iowa, trying to beat each other to the big story of whether farmers and housewives in Appanoose, Emmet and Grundy counties will vote for Newt, Michelle or Mitt?

Rick Perry campaigns in Iowa

Why does anybody care about Iowa? To folks in California and New York it’s down there somewhere in the “flyover states” between Manhattan and Hollywood. Many Americans wonder if it should be pronounced “Ohio” and aren’t sure if it’s next to Idaho or Indiana. It’s midwestern, largely rural and agricultural. The name of its state capital, Des Moines, is unpronounceable: Is it Dez-MOYNZ? Or maybe Duh-MOW-een? How about Dee-MOYN?

“During the fall and early winter of every fourth year, the United States turns its full attention to the state of Iowa,” writes Josh Clark for the website HowStuffWorks: “The Des Moines Register newspaper gets the kind of political clout that the Washington Post or the New York Times do when its editors reveal which candidates their paper officially endorses.

“Average Joes and Janes are interviewed by out-of-town national correspondents over coffee and pie in the local diner about what issues are most important to them. And almost every candidate in the presidential race virtually moves to the state to spend months campaigning throughout Iowa.”

Michelle Bachmann meets the press in Iowa

But why Iowa? And what is a caucus anyway?

Every four years, Democrats and Republicans — and for that matter, Libertarians, Greens and most of the other “third parties” — use

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