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Iowa's $200-Per-Vote Caucuses Reward Negatives, Nastiness, Narrow Thinking

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Veteran John Strong waits for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign rally in West Des Moines, Iowa Dec 30, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The Republicans who would be president, the super PACs and the surrogates had already spent more than $12 million on television ads -- almost half of them negative -- before the final weekend leading up to Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.

That doesn't count the thousands of radio ads, mailings, lighted billboards in Des Moines and costs for staff.

Add it all up and there is a good chance that, when all is said and done Tuesday night, the candidates will have spent $200 a vote to influence the roughly 110,000 Iowans who are expected to participate in the GOP caucuses.

And the really unsettling thing is that the caucuses are just for show.

While the results may so damage some candidates that their runs for the presidency will be finished, they will not actually produce any delegates to the Republican National Convention.

That's because, as the Des Moines Register notes, "Iowa delegates are not bound to vote for a specific candidate at the national convention, and no percentage of delegates is given to any one candidate (on caucus night)." Iowa Republican Party Executive Director Chad Olsen told the paper that the GOP caucus acts more as a "temperature gauge" of how Iowans feel about the candidates, and convention delegates use the results to inform their decision.

Seriously? All this for an glorified straw poll?

That's the problem with the caucus system, which operates on an only slightly better model on the Democratic side.

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Huge amounts of money are spent to influence a very small percentage of the electorate -- less than 20 percent of Iowans who are likely to vote Republican in November will participate in Tuesday's caucuses, and most of them will leave after the balloting finishes. An even smaller number of Iowans will begin the process of choosing representatives to county conventions, who in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions at which Iowa's national delegates are actually selected.

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