The first votes were cast this week in the long road leading to the presidential election of 2008, when nearly 350,000 citizens braved the winter cold to support their candidate in the Iowa Caucuses.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won the Republican Caucus, while Illinois Senator Barack Obama took the top prize on the Democratic side.
Both winners support expanded ethanol production mandates. While that doesn't necessarily translate into Caucus success, the position did not go unnoticed in the nation's top corn and ethanol producing state.
Andrew Batt payed a visit to the Iowa Caucuses and filed this report on a system that is decidedly different.
Barack Obama, D-Illinois: "But on this January night, on this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do."
Mike Huckabee, R-Arkansas: "I love Iowa..."
After months of campaigning, millions of dollars in advertising, and the earliest start to a presidential primary in American history, the people of Iowa finally decided.
Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama surged into first place finishes for the Republican and Democratic caucuses after a grueling final week on the campaign trail.
On a cold January night in largely rural communities, Iowans came out in record numbers.
Caucus goers swelled registration lines and overwhelmed even the highest turnout expectations.
In propelling Huckabee and Obama to victory, a soaring number of first-time caucus goers discovered one the nation's most unique exercises in democracy.
There's a certain demeanor about the Iowa Caucuses……most elections don't involve serving snacks and campaign logo cookies but Iowa is different.
Instead of the sealed, secret ballot of American political lore, Iowans stand up in front of hundreds of their fellow citizens…pledging their support for a candidate.
"Please herd your people and please get them together."
"You can now go and group together for your candidate."
"22, 23, 24...I think we have 25 people."
Iowa's Republican Party simply counts the votes from every legal voter in attendance but the Democratic party handles the process differently.
Democratic candidates must have at least 15% of the total votes at any single precinct location. If the 15% threshold is not reached, those voters must vote for a more viable candidate.
"Please go choose your final candidate…"
"They usually choose a final candidate in the final two minutes…usually."
The format all but ensured that the top three Democratic candidates: Obama, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton would absorb nearly all of Iowa's delegates. As supporters from Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, and Chris Dodd were forced to pick a second choice, their neighbors were already courting the vote.
"I know you're thinking of switching to Edwards. I'll be back in two minutes so you can decide."
The switching of candidates and free-flowing nature of the Iowa Caucus is at the core of criticism by national media and some voters.
"It's a broken system and I'm not happy with it but it's the best we've got."
But the atmosphere at the town halls, high school gymnasiums, and churches throughout Iowa is unlike any other voting experience.
More pep rally than ballot box, the process at many Democratic Caucuses can last 90 minutes while Republicans usually decide in a fraction of that time.
After the final numbers are tallied, Iowans go home and wait more than ten months for the general election.
But while the Iowa Caucuses provide a unique civics lesson, critics have slammed the event for lacking diversity and participation by a rural agriculture-based community.
But if the 2008 Iowa Caucuses have proven anything, it's that Iowans accused of lacking diversity chose the first African-American winner and an underdog with a fraction of the financial power of his top rivals.
And after more than twelve months of campaigning, the Iowa Caucuses may have shown us something else…a preview of November 2008.
Mike Huckabee: "You know where this may be headed and then you'll think back and realize this all started here in Iowa."
Barack Obama: "Because we are not simply a collection of red states and blue states...we are the United States of America. And in this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again. Thank you Iowa!"