Game On: Iowa Caucuses Kick Off 2016 Presidential Election

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -
A campaign worker checks his mobile phone in a campaign office for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Ankeny, Iowa Monday. (Brian SnyderReuters)
A campaign worker checks his mobile phone in a campaign office for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Ankeny, Iowa Monday.
(Brian SnyderReuters)

After a long year of campaigning, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates faced voters for the first time, battling in Iowa Monday for a boost toward the White House – or in many cases, simply a reason to stay in the race.

Candidates face an electorate deeply frustrated with Washington. While the economy has improved under President Barack Obama’s watch, the recovery has eluded many Americans. New terror threats at home and abroad have also ratcheted up national security concerns.

In Iowa, which has for decades launched the presidential nominating contest, candidates also face an electorate that’s whiter, more rural and more evangelical than many states. But, given its prime leadoff spot in the primary season, the state gets extra attention from presidential campaigns.

Even so, Iowa has decidedly mixed results in picking eventual nominees. The past two Republican caucus winners – former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – faded as the race stretched on. But Obama’s unexpected 2008 victory was instrumental in his path to the Democratic nomination, easing the anxieties of those worried that the young black senator would struggle to win white voters.

Unlike in primaries, where voters can cast their ballots throughout the day, the caucuses began across Iowa at 7 p.m. CST. Democrats gathered at 1,100 locations and Republicans at nearly 900.

While both parties caucus on the same night, they do so with different rules.

Republicans vote by private ballot. The state’s 30 Republican delegates are awarded proportionally based on the vote.

Democrats form groups at caucus sites, publicly declaring their support for a candidate. If the number in any group is less than 15 percent of the total, they can either bow out or join another viable candidate’s group.

Those final numbers are awarded proportionately, based on statewide and congressional district voting, determining Iowa’s 44 delegates to the national convention.