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Iowa Dems Clarify Caucus Rules

This morning, we mentioned that Iowa political guru David Yepsen is worried that, because of the influx of college students from out of state, the first presidential nominating contest of the year might more accurately be called the Illinois caucuses. Yepsen suggested that Barack Obama's campaign, which has been the most active on college campuses throughout the state, might be operating in an underhanded manner.

But, says Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan, there's not much the state party can do about it. "In running the First in the Nation Caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party follows the Iowa Code in determining the eligibility of potential caucus goers. According to the Iowa Code, all college students who are at least 18 years old are eligible to vote and, therefore, eligible to caucus," Brennan said in a statement.

Still, any college student wishing to participate must be a registered Democrat, which can be done on caucus night, in the precinct where they attend a caucus. That limits the range and effectiveness of a huge boost among college students. The state Democratic Party allocates delegates to precincts based on previous years' Democratic performance. Therefore, boosted turnout at one precinct would only help Obama -- or any other candidate -- win delegates at that precinct.

It is possible, for example, for 500 caucus attendees to fight over 10 delegates at the precinct nearest to the University of Iowa, while down the road 100 caucus attendees could have to allocate 10 delegates as well. So while 50 supporters of Hillary Clinton would fail to meet Democrats' 15% threshold at the larger caucus, those same 50 supporters would win half the delegates and the smaller caucus.

Once results roll in, look for some precincts that vote overwhelmingly for Obama to be centered around college campuses. In precincts farther out, though, the playing field will be level.