Your Iowa caucus guide

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DES MOINES, IOWA – It’s the ultimate numbers game.

Tonight, we will start to see what the 2016 electorate looks like for the first time. Is the Democratic Party “Berning” down? Has Donald Trump remade the GOP? As Iowans go to caucus this evening at 8 p.m. ET the volume of turnout will say so much.

In 2008, a concerted effort by then-Sen. Barack Obama and massive voter interest helped increase Democratic turnout by almost double. It was the first ripple in what would be a wave that would take him to the nomination and the White House – and confirmation of his strategy that uses a community organizing approach enhanced by technology to change the political landscape.

Remember, if you can’t win with the voters you’ve got, it’s time to get some new voters.

There is no indication of the massive surge in voter registrations that foretold Obama’s success, but Iowa has same-day registration and the raw energy and attention generated by Trump and Sanders in their respective parties can’t be discounted.

Three degrees of separation - So consider some turnout models. There were 121,503 Republican caucus goers in 2012, substantially unchanged from four years earlier. But the most recent, most reliable polling on the GOP side points to a substantial increase in turnout.

But how big?

If Republicans see a number that is about the same as before, it will be bad news for GOP frontrunner Trump. While he is polling well among Republicans, the secret to his dominance in polls is bringing nontraditional Republican voters to his side.

It has worked well in polls, but this will be the first test of his coalition that includes self-identified Democrats and independents who would be first-time Republican caucus participants.

Trump supporters should be hoping to see a substantial bump in turnout as these new voters come in. Given the enormous attention paid to this year’s Republican nominating process one might expect some gains, but the kind of crushing victory that Team Trump is looking for would likely come with thousands of new voters – perhaps tens of thousands.

The final Des Moines Register poll that shows Trump with a small lead is based on having about four out of 10 caucus goers be first-timers. Recent years have seen less than half that.

However, should Iowa act as it has in the past two cycles for Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will be in the catbird seat. He has the advantage with the traditional GOP caucus model. In today’s Quinnipiac University poll, Cruz leads Trump by a point among those who have caucused before but trails by 18 points among first timers. Get the idea?

The third top-tier contender in Iowa, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is looking for a third place finish. A more traditional turnout model might help turn his late surge in polls here into either a closer finish to the top two or, conceivably, a surprise second place. And if that happens, Cruz’s future chances dim substantially.

A close second-place finish for Cruz wouldn’t be a disaster, but if he gets smoked by Trump or, even worse, falls behind Rubio, it would be a catastrophic failure.

Where are the Obama voters? - The Democratic electorate is even more of an open question.

We don’t know how high to set the baseline for Democrats since this will be the first competitive caucus since Obama’s big win in 2008.While Hillary Clinton has gushed resources and organization into the state and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is unquestionably driving interest on the left.

Sanders has to hope that Democratic turnout doesn’t recede all the way back to 2004 levels.

And today, we have another concrete sign that the Obama coalition is still somewhat intact as the final Quinnipiac pre-caucus poll shows Sanders ahead. The Vermont socialist has consistently led in New Hampshire, but Iowa has been far more changeable.

While even a close result would be something of a moral victory for Sanders, a win could change the dynamic in the race in a big way. But again, it’s all about who shows up.

The first president born west of the Mississippi River was Iowa native Herbert Hoover. The 31st president of the United States left Iowa for Oregon to live with relatives after both his parents passed away in his youth. Hoover, however, never forgot his Iowa roots. As he described, “I prefer to think of Iowa as I saw it through the eyes of a 10-year old boy. Those were eyes filled with the wonders of Iowa’s streams and woods. They saw days filled with adventure with participation in good and comforting things.” Hoover lived most of his life outside the two room house he was born in West Branch, but wanted his first home to be his final resting place. When he died in 1964 thousands of people lined the streets from Cedar Rapids to West Branch for his funeral procession. Today, the house and gravesite are a National Historic Site.

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Iowa GOP caucus –
Trump 28.6 percent; Cruz 23.9 percent; Rubio 16.9 percent; Carson 7.7 percent
General Election: Clinton vs. Trump – Clinton +2.7 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Republicans +0.5

Every four years, Iowa bashing is style, especially for the supporters of candidates bound to lose. Why should Iowa go first? Why not a big state, or a more diverse state or a state that likes your candidate?

The simplest answer is that barring the development of some new system, some state will have to be the first one and Iowa has done a very good job over the past 40 years.

Iowa has a special role to play in the presidential nominating process. While Iowans don’t always pick their parties’ nominees, they do cull the fields.

After tonight, struggling campaigns will enter a death-watch phase, and some will even quit outright. And for a Republican field that has been as bloated as an omnibus spending bill passed at midnight on a voice vote, Iowa has never been more essential.

Our Principles PAC has one main mission: stop Donald Trump. The group says that Trump’s policy positions are not conservative, and voters need to know his real record. Their chairwoman, Katie Packer, explains to Chris Stirewalt how they plan to do that from Des Moines, Iowa. WATCH HERE.

Huck campaign hits back on Trump endorsement talk - The Iowa rumor mill and the pundit class has been rife with talk of an impending post-caucus endorsement of Donald Trump by Mike Huckabee. Team Huck is pushing back hard on any suggestion of a deal. “Totally untrue” said one Huckabee insider.

Engadget: “Forget anti-drone drones, one of nature’s most majestic hunters may soon play a valuable role in taking down dangerous UAVs. As part of a new trial, the Dutch National Police force has begun training eagles to intercept troublesome drones during an emergency, when another capture device might put people below at risk. In collaboration with raptor training company Guard From Above, Dutch police taught an eagle to recognize a DJI drone. Once in sight, the bird flies toward its mechanical prey, snatches it with its enormous talons and then takes it to safe place…What makes eagles effective drone hunters? Their feet have four powerful toes that are strong enough to grip and carry heavy objects, whether it’s a wild animal or a heavy UAV.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.