US presidential hopefuls will make their last bid to woo the people of Iowa today before Americans have their first say on who will head to the White House next year.
Voters in Iowa can award their chosen candidate five days of momentum and free media in the run-up to an election where, for the first time in more than 50 years, a sitting president or vice president is not on the ticket.
Instead, the United States could see the first woman or the first African American president in its history.
Around 200,000 people will gather in living rooms, school gyms and public places across the 99-county state tonight to say who they want to lead their party in the race to the White House.
With polls frequently unreliable at this level of grassroots democracy, the Hawkeye state will give the first glimpse into the minds of a few, strategically important, Americans.
Only around seven per cent of the state’s population (0.066% of the US population) are expected to brave the cold, wintry January night – where temperatures are around -16C – in order to have their say on their party’s candidate, with both Republicans and Democrats holding their caucuses at the same time.
Their actions will set the tone for a month which could see the US General Election candidates emerge by the end of Super Tuesday on February 5.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton top the polls for the Democrats, with John Edwards in third, while a surprise surge in recent months has led Mick Huckabee to join Mitt Romney at the top of the pile for the Republicans, followed by John McCain and Fred Thompson.
The Republican national front-runner, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, has run a very limited campaign in Iowa, choosing to concentrate on states which go to the polls later.
Tonight’s results will be the first indication of how grassroots Americans feel about the potential presidents.
And with the New Hampshire primaries on January 8, the Iowa caucuses are crucial.
For the Republicans, an unconventional and strong campaign by former Arkansas governor Mr Huckabee saw him rise to the top of the polls in recent months, but a New Year’s Eve campaign stunt reminded many observers of his mistake-prone race.
After making a negative campaign advert which referred to rival Mr Romney as “dishonest”, Mr Huckabee cancelled its launch saying he had changed his mind - but then played the ad in full while urging journalists to take careful note of the negative ad he had withdrawn because he wanted to run a positive campaign.
“I believe the people of Iowa deserve better,” he said.
“And we are going to try and give them better...”
And for the Democrats, with Mrs Clinton leading her opponents in other early primary states, a victory in Iowa is crucial for both Mr Obama and Mr Edwards.
As Mr Obama said in a speech last month: “Whoever wins this caucus is likely to win the nomination, and likely to win the presidency.”