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Volunteers get dinner at Newt Gingrich's Iowa headquarters on January 1, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. - 

Stacey Vanek Smith: Central time will take center stage this evening -- presidential caucuses begin in Iowa. This is just a first step in the long nominating process but it does set the tone for the race -- both politically and financially.

Wayne Moyer teaches political science at Grinnell College in Iowa. Good morning, professor!

Wayne Moyer: Good morning.

Smith: Professor Moyer, supporters of the Iowa caucus say one advantage of the caucus is that it gives less wealthy candidates a chance -- that they can challenge candidates with deeper pockets because the Iowa race is more about meeting with people, shaking hands -- that kind of thing. Is that true?

Moyer: Yes, I think that it is. The nature of the state is such that the smaller population and the less need for television advertising -- which is very expensive -- it does give candidates a chance who don't have quite the resources that others do.

Particularly say, with Rick Santorum, who didn't have very much money; who's rising very rapidly in the polls right now. And he spent, I think, something like 100 days in Iowa, and he would not have been able to do that in a larger state. He wouldn't have had the same kind of impact.

Smith: Now Iowa has its own particular economy -- it's got quite a low unemployment rate, and it's also a very rural state and it's been a good few years for farmers. How is Iowa's economy factoring into the race right now?

Moyer: I don't think that it is making a great deal of difference. I think that the people in Iowa are looking at the national situation as much as they're looking at the Iowa situation. I mean, we still have an unemployment rate of 6 percent, which is still pretty high. I haven't been able to tell how it's helping candidates or hurting candidates per se.

Smith: Wayne Moyer is a professor of political science at Grinnell College in Iowa. Professor Moyer, thank you.

Moyer: Thank you.

Follow Stacey Vanek Smith at @svaneksmith