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What caucuses mean for the Iowa economy

Supporters of former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cheer for him during a rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds January 2, 2012 in Davenport, Iowa.

Steve Chiotakis: Today all the months of shaking hands, kissing babies and buying TV ads in Iowa plays out before the rest of the country. Voters in the Hawkeye state are caucusing with their neighbors, picking their favorite candidates. And the process means a lot to the Iowa economy.

Donna Hoffman heads up the political science department at the University of Northern Iowa and she's with us right now. Good morning Donna.

Donna Hoffman: Good morning.

Chiotakis: These caucuses are big businesses in Iowa?

Hoffman: They are. It's, you know, pretty exciting to be in the state. We get, of course, candidates that come in -- they spend money. We get the national media, the international media that come in -- they spend money. We also get, you might call them "political tourists" or people who come in from other states to help their candidates, to walk neighborhoods, to man phone banks. And all of those people spend money in the state.

The biggest thing though, that you see, is of course the ad revenue that television stations get because the airwaves are  inundated with ads right now.

Chiotakis: I know these caucus meetings, are like some kind of, I don't know, potluck dinner, or a book club, right? I mean, give us the financials. How much does it cost for someone to put something like this on?

Hoffman: These are party events, and so the parties bear the cost of this. But you know, caucuses are a throwback to really old-school politics, where you meet with your neighbors and you caucus -- you talk with them, you talk about the candidates, you decide who you want to elect to the next level of convention.

For delegates, these are really very local affairs because they're precinct meetings, and precincts are the smallest level of political organization.

Chiotakis: And you say they're trying to convince others to switch their votes to a certain candidate. Are there business or negotiating tactics that play a big role in that?

Hoffman: It depends on the party, actually. In Democratic caucuses that very much is the case. Republicans, however, do it differently. There is a secret ballot typically taken at the Republican caucuses, and then they go on with their business. Because caucuses are about the party governing itself, and you have platform issues to take care of, you have delegates to select to the next level of convention, which in this case is the county -- which will be held in March.

Chiotakis: Donna Hoffman from the University of Northern Iowa. Donna, thanks.

Hoffman: You're very welcome.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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