The "Iowa Effect" dates back to 1976. Hugh Winebrenner was a young political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines at the time, and he remembers how Jimmy Carter's candidacy was transformed when he snagged more than twice as many delegates as his rival in the Iowa caucuses.
"He was a little-known governor from the state of Georgia, referred to as 'Jimmy Who?' and when he emerged as a viable presidential candidate that was a major story," Winebrenner said.
Since then, Iowa has become a rite of passage for the presidential hopefuls.
Winebrenner said you can break the Iowa effect down into two parts.
"One is a momentum effect and the other is a winnowing effect," he said.
For a good example of Iowa's winnowing effect, think back to the 2004 election. Howard Dean, who'd been leading in many opinion polls before Iowa, finished third in the caucuses. More than a month later on precinct caucus day in Minnesota, Dean and several other contenders had already dropped out of the race. So whether Minnesota DFLers liked it or not, Iowa played a role in limiting their choices.
The momentum effect went to John Kerry. Winning Iowa brought him lots of media attention and money. He went on to win the New Hampshire primary and locked things up on Super Tuesday 2004 winning 9 of the 10 states that voted that day, including Minnesota.
This year Iowa's caucuses are much earlier, and so are Minnesota's. And Super Tuesday is now "super-duper," with more than 20 states, including Minnesota, weighing in on Feb. 5. There are also more candidates running on both sides though presumably a few will be winnowed out by the time Minnesotans get their say.
So, how are likely caucus-goers in Minnesota being influenced by all the campaigning going on in Iowa? That depends on the caucus-goer.
"I always thought Iowa was a good bellwether state. I was always comfortable with the Iowans picking the first set of candidates," said Republican voter Douglas Weeks.
"The Iowa caucuses are not a good bellwether of anything except who wins the Iowa caucuses," countered Democratic voter Elaine Savick.
They're both faithful caucus-goers. They've both been following the campaigns in Iowa, and they're both supporting candidates who aren't faring so well there, if you believe the public opinion polls.
Douglas Weeks, an evangelical Christian and a software consultant who lives in Burnsville, favors Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"I like his foreign policy experience," said Weeks. "I like his support for the Iraq war. I like the fact that he's been pretty steadfast in that and hasn't wavered. I think that's important in a president. What I don't like about him is his position on some of the social issues, but I think he would be an excellent president."
But Weeks isn't optimistic about McCain's chances, even though polls show McCain gaining in New Hampshire. The trouble for Weeks is, he hasn't been terribly impressed by the perceived Republican front-runners. He doesn't think Rudy Giuliani's experience as New York City mayor or Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee's experience as governors prepares them well for the presidency.
"I think foreign policy is a more important criteria for picking a president than executive ability," Weeks says.
But electability is also important to Weeks, and he thinks how a candidate fairs in Iowa can be a good indication of how he or she will do nationally. Elaine Savick disagrees.
"It's a white, conservative, Christian state. I am white. I am not conservative or Christian and I don't feel that their concerns and their issues are my concerns and my issues."
Savick, a hospice nurse who lives in St. Louis Park, likes New Mexico Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. She likes the leading Democratic presidential candidates, too, but she thinks Richardson would be best equipped to win over congressional Republicans.
"I'm afraid particularly Hillary and Edwards might make things even worse in the relationship between the Democrats and the Republicans," she said. "And I don't know about Obama, because I don't think anybody really knows."
But Savick does know Bill Richardson isn't drawing a lot of support in Iowa, or on a national level.
"Well he's not exciting," she said. "He's not sexy. He doesn't generate a lot of press."
So, when it's her turn, Elaine Savick said she may not even get a chance to vote for her favorite presidential candidate. She has a feeling he might be winnowed out by then.