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The Most Raucous Iowa Caucus Moments of All Time

Love it or hate it, you need to accept it. Iowa gets the first crack at picking the next leader of the free world.

Love it or hate it, you need to accept it. Iowa gets the first crack at picking the next leader of the free world, and candidates spend months in the state hoping to win over caucus goers and be catapulted into the White House.

And sure, that has happened. But a win in the first-in-the-nation-caucuses doesn’t guarantee anything for presidential hopefuls. And through the years there have been plenty of twists and turns in the race to score the first victory in the presidential election.

Here’s a look at some of the top caucus moments.

Jimmy Carter launches in Iowa

If you’re looking for one person to pin Iowa’s role on, Jimmy Carter is your man. The relatively unknown Georgia governor was a long shot in the Democratic primary battle, but he hunkered down in the Hawkeye State and ended up garnering more support than any other candidate. “Uncommitted,” however, received the most votes in the 1976 Democratic caucuses. Carter translated the momentum into a victory in the New Hampshire primary and went on to win the White House. The boost helped solidify the perception that the road to the White House goes through Iowa.

Of course, it has been a mixed bag since then. There has never been a President Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, or Walter Mondale. Iowa does not so much as guarantee a candidate will win his or her nomination, let alone the White House.

The Hawkeye State certainly can have that power, like it did for then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. But it is far from a sure thing.

What’s a Caucus?

Jan. 31, 201601:26

Caucus counting

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won the 2012 Iowa caucuses -- 16 days late.

The preliminary results had Mitt Romney as the victor of the Jan. 3, 2012 caucuses. The tally was changed on Jan. 19 to show Santorum had actually won the caucuses by 34 votes. Santorum went on to mount an unexpectedly fierce challenge to Romney, the eventual GOP nominee. But his advisers felt like they missed out on momentum and fundraising by not being declared the original winner.

The caucuses have had a history of problems tabulating results. The Des Moines Register chronicles the problems, showing that nearly every four years there has been some sort of snafu. In 1980, computer problems skewed the results to show George H.W. Bush with an impressive victory over Ronald Reagan. But a number of caucuses Reagan figured to do well in never reported or didn’t hold caucuses.

Turnout for what? Barack Obama in 2008

The historic race between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and a slew of other Democrats drew out nearly 240,000 Iowans, shattering previous turnout records. The excitement created by Obama’s candidacy, coupled with the President George W. Bush’s unpopularity among Democrats, inspired a new generation of Iowans to go caucus. The huge numbers included younger voters and independent voters, and led to overflow crowds in the schools and firehouses where Democrats caucuses. By comparison, about 118,000 Republicans caucused in 2008, and 121,500 in 2012. The 2008 numbers are unlikely to be replicated this election, though Bernie Sanders has been drawing huge crowds on the campaign trail.

Bob goes back-to-back (sort of)

Perhaps no one has had more caucus success than Bob Dole. He is the only non-incumbent to win the contest twice -- in 1988 and 1996. (That could change if Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum pull off a stunning upset on Monday.) His Midwestern roots in Kansas certainly helped Dole in Iowa, but so did his friendship with one of the state’s favorite sons, Sen. Chuck Grassley. The two are best friends, the Des Moines Register wrote, and Dole enjoyed a rare endorsement from the Iowa Republican. He went on to win the GOP nomination in 1996, but fell short in the general election to incumbent President Bill Clinton.