I had an interesting discussion today at lunch with my extended family about whether the Iowa Caucus coming up this Tuesday even matters.  My column this week for the Arkansas News Bureau pretty much argues that it does not.  I would love to see major changes made to the primary calendar, but of course I am letting my Arkansas bias show on that.

For political junkies like me, it is certainly fun to watch.

As I predicted in my column, I think Ron Paul is going to be the winner on Tuesday with Romney close behind.  Most polls show a statistical dead heat between the two of them.  However, I give Paul the edge due to two factors. First, he has more motivated supporters who will walk through walls to go vote for him in the caucus, while Romney supporters are more likely to stay home and watch the Sugar Bowl. And second, there is not a contested Democratic primary this year so independent caucus goers will likely caucus with the Republicans. Paul does quite well with this group.

The real action to me is what takes place in the competition among Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann.  These four need a third or strong fourth place showing to have a realistic reason to continue their campaigns.  Hopefully, the bottom two of these four will drop out after the caucus and allow those preferring a nominee not named Mitt Romney to have a conservative alternative.

Bachmann’s campaign has steadily imploded over the last week with her Iowa director Kent Sorenson jumping ship for Ron Paul.  To make matters worse, she reportedly fired her political director Wes Enos after he defended Sorenson against Bachmann’s charges that Sorenson was paid off.  I can’t see her surviving after Iowa, but that does not mean she will drop out either.

Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich all are running neck-and-neck, but it is important to note the trajectory of each. Gingrich, who was a front-runner only a couple of weeks ago, is trending down while Santorum is surging.  Perry’s numbers have ticked up a bit, but have been relatively flat.  However, Perry is spending mountains of cash right now in Iowa, so don’t count him out.

All that being said, it is close enough that anything could happen.

There are several Arkansans up in Iowa right now, although I don’t have a complete list.  State Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) is up there with his family campaigning for Rick Perry and should have updates on this twitter feed. Anyone else? Let me know.

Also, the Republican Party of Iowa has a good explanation of how the whole caucus system works.

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Jason Tolbert is the moderator for his opinion blog, The Tolbert Report. He can be reached by e-mail at Jason@TolbertReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TolbertReport.