When Iowans gather in high school gyms, community centers and church basements in just three days, their decisions will kick start a chain reaction that will determine who wins one of the most unpredicatable presidential contests in decades.
''Think of it as a pinball machine,'' said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown, who is tracking voters in states with early contests. "It bounces you off those different posts, and the angle at which you hit each post affects where you bounce after that.''
The corn-friendly Midwestern state has developed a reputation for narrowing the field with its first-in-the-nation caucuses. So, who needs the money, momentum and media coverage that an Iowa win would bring? And who could join the list of presidential "also-rans" by the time Florida's Jan. 29 primary rolls around?