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Iowa caucus: Importance and significance explained

The race to the 2024 US presidential election begins as Republican voters gear up to participate in the year's first caucuses.

The race to the 2024 US presidential election is officially underway as Republican voters in Iowa gear up to participate in the year's first caucuses. The caucus will test former President Donald Trump's influence over the party, but record cold temperatures are expected to affect voter turnout.

Winning the state won't guarantee the party's nomination, but it will create momentum leading up to the Republican convention in July, when the party candidate will be declared.

Caucuses and primaries are the two ways the Republicans and the governing Democrats choose their candidates. The majority of US states hold primaries, while some traditional Republican states such as Iowa hold caucuses to elect delegates. The delegates elected in caucuses and primaries vote in the convention.

This unique voting affair in Iowa - a Republican-dominated state - has marked the beginning of presidential primaries since 1972.

The Iowa caucuses are in-person meetings among voters of each party in Iowa. They are similar to primaries, except they are run by parties instead of the state. Registered Republicans cast their vote through a secret paper ballot, and the votes are then tallied and winners are announced in a matter of few hours.

Registered Republican voters who are legal residents of Iowa will gather in caucus precincts as early as two hours before the commencement of the caucus. People who are not registered voters or registered Republicans can also participate in the caucus but have to register in person at their precinct.

The Republican caucus will not be much of an indicator of who the Republican nominee would be, as Iowa is allocated a mere 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this summer, making up only 1.6 percent of the total. However, candidates can leverage the momentum they can gain from its results as they head to the New Hampshire primary the following week.

The results of the caucuses are the first litmus test of the viability and momentum of Trump and other candidates in the race. They will also help gauge the strength of support for candidates, especially this year in blizzard-stricken Iowa.

The Republican caucus is forecasted to be the coldest Iowa caucus night ever, with temperatures expected to drop to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius). Despite the forecast, Trump's strong support within the voter base suggests that Trump supporters may not be deterred by the weather.

Trump urged his supporters during an Indianola rally to show up to the caucus and dress warmly, emphasizing the importance of their participation. Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann said he was expecting a strong turnout as long as there isn't snowfall and icy road conditions that hinder travel.

The results of the caucuses are expected to be released on Monday night, a few hours after voting ends. A Des Moines Register/NBC News poll released late on Saturday found that Trump had the most supporters saying they were very enthusiastic about his candidacy.

The poll showed Trump with 48 percent of support, while Ron DeSantis, who has staked his bid on a strong showing in Iowa, had slipped to third place with 16 percent. Nikki Haley, who has banked on donors' disappointment with DeSantis's campaign, had jumped to second place with 20 percent. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson are also on the ballot.

Trump's popularity with the Republican base is indicative that voters are willing to look past his criminal indictments, as well as his role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack by his supporters. His supporters also seem undeterred by his increasingly shrill language, including comments where he said that undocumented migrants were "poisoning the blood of our country."

Trump has also been receiving endorsements from local leadership. On Sunday, he was endorsed by North Dakota governor and former 2024 presidential candidate Doug Burgum, as well as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whom Trump defeated for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The Iowa caucus will be a crucial test for Trump and other candidates as they vie for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election. Despite the challenges posed by the cold weather, the results of the caucus are expected to provide valuable insights into the momentum and viability of the candidates in the race.

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