DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A relatively small number of people in the heartland state of Iowa tonight will cast the first votes in a process that will determine America's next president.
The Iowa caucuses will start winnowing the field of candidates looking for the Republican and Democratic nominations next summer.
After a final round of speeches and rallies by the candidates today, dedicated Iowans will gather at 7 tonight to discuss the candidates and line up behind a favorite. Altogether, fewer than a-quarter million people will be meeting at locations in Iowa's 1,800 precincts. Turnout at each meeting will likely range from only a few in rural areas, to hundreds at caucus locations in the suburbs.
Pre-caucus polls indicate a tight race between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney on the Republican side, and Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for the Democrats.
A Romney adviser says about the only thing that's certain is that the weather will be cold and the outcome will be close. Obama captured the urgency in a closing message to his backers: "Walk quick, talk fast."
Attention next swivels to New Hampshire, which holds the nation's lead-off primary five days from now.