People like Mary Louise Smith gravitated toward the Democratic Party. Iowa was the sixth most Democratic state in the 1984 presidential election, the second most Democratic in 1988.
In those years, religious conservatives became the dominant force in Iowa Republican politics. This was apparent when televangelist Pat Robertson won the 1987 Ames straw poll and came in a strong second to farm-stater Bob Dole in the 1988 precinct caucuses. Bush, the 1980 winner, ran a poor third.
Iowa didn't pick the Republican nominee that year, but it did in 1996, when Bob Dole and Phil Gramm tied for the lead in the straw poll and Dole won the caucuses. In 2000, George W. Bush built a strong organization and with his strong pro-life stand won the straw poll and the precinct caucuses.
Mitt Romney followed Bush's strategy in 2008, campaigning hard in 99 counties as an abortion opponent. He won the straw poll but lost the precinct caucuses, in which 60 percent of attenders called themselves religious conservatives, to "Christian conservative" Mike Huckabee.
Caucus turnout declined in most Iowa rural counties between 1988 and 2008, but it rose sharply in Des Moines's Polk County and the seven adjoining counties. Country churches were replaced by metropolitan megachurches as generators of turnout.
You can see the change by the location of candidates' headquarters. They used to be clustered in Des Moines, near the affluent neighborhood where people like Mary Louise Smith lived. Now they're out in the suburbs, convenient to freeways and megachurches.
And so on Saturday some 15,000 to 25,000 Iowans in a state of 3 million will travel to Ames and pay a $30 fee that may determine who will be president of a nation of 311 million.
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