After months of talking about it and predicting the 2016 Presidential race starts for real tonight with the Iowa Caucuses. And Iowa takes their caucuses very seriously, just look at the banner headline from today’s Des Moines Register (above).

Toss out the polls, and throw out the conventional wisdom about what an Iowa win means.  This is not a typical year.

A caucus is not the same as a primary, and in Iowa a caucus is not even the same for each party.

For the Re­pub­lic­ans at each caucus, people from each campaign for each of the cam­paigns give a speech to the group, from there there is discussion (arguing?) and finally there is a secret ballot poll of everyone there and the res­ults are re­por­ted to the state party via a Microsoft created app.

With the Demo­crat­s their process diverges from the GOP after the speeches. Instead of voting, supporters of can­did­ates are split up in­to dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the room.  Un­com­mit­ted caucus-go­ers have their own “group.”  If a can­did­ate’s group doesn’t represent at least 15 per­cent of the total, that candidate’s supporters must move to a dif­fer­ent can­did­ate. So on the Democratic side the winner may be determined by where the O’Malley voters (anywhere from 3-5%) move their support.  Once all groups have reached 15%+ the del­eg­ates can be awar­ded.

As with most elections, turn-out is key. Both Bernie Sanders and Don­ald Trump are counting on ex­pand­ing their party’s elect­or­ate. Sanders is looking for the young. Trump is looking to draw people with no party affiliation (people can affiliate with their party on the day of the caucus).  A large GOP turnout is good for Trump, and on the Democratic side is good for Sanders (although it’s doubtful the Democratic turnout will come close to the record-breaking 2008 turnout. That was the year Obama surprised Hillary).

Supposedly Ted Cruz has the best GOP organization in Iowa, but the word is that Trump may have a better organization than people think:

“I think his campaign is better organized than people give him credit for,” said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, who covered the caucuses over several decades for The Des Moines Register.

“His campaign has got a couple of good leaders in it that have done this before.”

When they start reporting counties and parts of the state tonight, look for the following:

Polk County is Iowa’s most populated county. Whoever wins this county (in either party) will have the leg up for winning the state.

The eastern part of the state (Black Hawk, John­son, Linn, and Scott) went huge for Romney in 2012, this may mean they will support the more establishment-type candidates.  A big turnout here may be good for Marco Rubio. The Northwest part of the state is Evangelical territory. Should be good for Ted Cruz (although some polls say that Trump is strong with the Evangelical vote also).

On the Democratic Party side, [score]Bernie Sanders[/score] needs a strong turnout in counties with big colleges, Black Hawk, John­son, and Story counties. We know that Bernie’s support is young, high turnout in these counties mean these first-time caucus goers are actually turning out. If not, it means they went to Bernie rallies for the snacks.

South­w­est Iowa was the heart of Hillary country in 2008 she needs to win there and win stronger than eight years ago, where some of the vote went to John Edwards (who placed second behind Obama).

Who needs to do well?

Hillary has to dominate. Even if he places second, if it’s close Bernie Sanders can call it a win going into next week’s New Hampshire primary where he has a huge advantage.  The race looks very close but if Hillary somehow pulls out a big win she will finally get that “inevitable” label she so desires. If Hillary loses there will be a lot of stories comparing her loss to her 2008 loss and failed campaign.

For the Republicans its hard to bet against Trump (especially because every time I have bet against him I’ve been wrong). If Ted Cruz has the turnout machine that he claims to have, there could be an upset.  The operative word is could. The polls had [score]Ted Cruz [/score] ahead a few weeks ago, now they show him a close second.  That there’s “marcomentum” [score]Marco Rubio[/score] has seen strong growth in the polls, but tonight’s for real.   He needs to finish a very strong third (20%?) to leave the state with momentum.

If Trump wins tonight many are predicting that he will run the string and win every remaining primary/caucus.  Perhaps, but as I related at the beginning of the post there is nothing normal about this political season.

Iowa is the perfect state for Ted Cruz, if he doesn’t come very close, or win in Iowa his campaign may begin declining elsewhere.  Rubio has been talking about “marcomentum” for about a week, if he demonstrates the momentum is real with a strong result, look for the “establishment money” to pour into the Rubio campaign.

Iowa is also put up or shut up time for the candidates who haven’t received much support like [score]Rick Santorum,[/score] [score]Rand Paul[/score], [score]Carly Fiorina[/score], and [score]Mike Huckabee[/score] who have been complaining that people have been ruling them out before one vote has been counted. After tonight votes will have been counted and we may officially be able to count them out.

Actually Mike Huckabee may have already decided that on his own.  Donald Trump is scheduled to be in Little Rock, Arkansas on Wednesday. There is only one reason for him to make a campaign appearance in Huckabee’s home town. Look for Huckabee to suspend his campaign and throw his weight to Donald Trump.

Before you follow the caucuses tonight, make sure to go over to Hot Air where Ed Morrissey explains where things stand now, and what it means for tonight.