The Iowa caucus is the first major event of any presidential election year. It’s one that has taken on immense importance, even if just 120,000 people participated in the Republican caucuses four years ago.

Overhyped or not, the winner in Iowa often goes on to win the party’s nomination.

The list of winners includes Democrat John Kerry in 2004, the year frontrunner Howard Dean finished a disappointing third place, unleashed a scream and never recovered.

President Barack Obama notched a critical win over Hillary Clinton in Iowa four years ago.
There have also been important exceptions.

The last Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, finished fourth in Iowa, losing out to Mike Huckabee. Two months later, Huckabee was out of the race.

In 1992, Iowa senator Tom Harkin won convincingly in his home state, while eventual winner Bill Clinton finished fourth with less than 3 percent of the vote.

In 1988, the victors in Iowa were Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Dick Gephardt, but it was the third-place finishers, George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, who would make it onto their parties’ tickets.

Iowa was not always so important. It started in 1972 when Iowa’s Democratic caucuses were scheduled ahead of the New Hampshire primary for the first time and George McGovern’s unexpectedly strong showing help catapult him to the Democratic nomination.

President Richard Nixon went on to win 49 states in a landslide re-election.

But seeing Iowa’s value, little-known Jimmy Carter campaigned heavily there in 1976. A
strong showing also propelled him to the Democratic nomination and the presidency, and the caucuses have been only growing in importance ever since.

Tuesday night, the first votes will be cast in the Republican Presidential race.

YNN has a political team in Iowa to bring you the latest on the fight for the GOP nomination. Starting at 6 p.m., we’ve got special live Capital Tonight coverage of the Iowa Caucus.