They start counting real votes on Thursday. The Iowa caucuses are then, on Tuesday the 8th, the New Hampshire primary. After those two, we'll know something. Not who the nominees are, maybe, but we'll know of lot of people who won't be.
In 1984, for instance, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart finished first and second in Iowa and went on the battle through the primaries for a nomination Mondale finally won. But others, including John Glenn, vanished after Iowa His headquarters, I remember, was in the same building as the Red Cross but even they couldn't save his candidacy.
So after Iowa it'll be a smaller field, maybe two in each party. Republicans? The polls say Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Former New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani has pretty much stayed out of the early states--Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina--planning to do well in Florida, but the party may be over by then.
Democrats? The polls, again, say Iowans are fairly evenly split among three candidates: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama. Edwards' campaign seems to have come lately to a single word: fight. He says it two or three times in every sentence, almost as if he were running for cheerleader or maybe boxing coach. Do Iowans like fighters? We'll find out. Again, my guess would be that two of those three survive to trudge on in New Hampshire. Iowa doesn't always pick winners; it does winnow the field.
So the stage is set and Washington, the political center of the country, is of course glued to its screens watching the unfolding battle? Well, no. Not exactly. Washington is glued to it's newspapers and TVs not because of politics but because the Redskins--the football team--have improbably won four straight and made the NFL playoffs.
Some cities are just good sports towns. I grew up in one, Chicago, where the baseball and basketball and all the other teams had lots of serious fans. Washington's different. Nobody gets all that worked up aout the Capitols (hockey), the Wizards (hoops) or the Nationals (baseball). But when the Redskins do well, the place rocks.
So if you run into a Washington friend Thursday night and ask, meaning Iowa, "Who won?" the answer will probably be, "The game's not 'til Sunday, stupid." It's a funny town.