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US states jockey for positions of influence i -

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TONY JONES: As the finish line now looms in Australia's marathon election campaign, the longest and
costliest race in US history is already well underway to elect a new president.

But it's a vote that still won't be taken for 12 months.

Well, in an attempt to have a greater say in the outcome of who'll become the 44th president, the
states have been changing the dates of their caucuses and primaries. But the shifting dates are
creating anger, anxiety and uncertainty.

North America correspondent Mark Simkin reports from the home of the first caucus, Iowa.

MARK SIMKIM: Three times a month the Marshall town church hall becomes a dance hall and the
residents kick up their heels.

They may not look like political junkies but these men and women have a big say in who becomes
president. The American presidential candidates aren't picked by the parties, they're elected by
the states. Because Iowa is always first, its caucus-goers are particularly powerful.

MAN: If I had to vote right today, it'd be Bill Richardson.

SECOND MAN: Fred Thompson. Yeah.

WOMAN: I like what Huckabee has to say.

SECOND MAN: Both very strong conservatives.

SECOND WOMAN: I'd vote for Hillary.

THIRD MAN: I would not vote for Hillary.

THIRD WOMAN: Yeah, I would not either. I feel we've had enough Clintons in the White House.

FOURTH WOMAN: Until we come to realise that we've got to put God back in the centre of our country,
which is what it's founded on, was Christianity, we're just going to keep going down.

MARK SIMKIM: The state can make or break a candidate. At this stage in 2004, Howard Dean was well
ahead of the other Democrats in the polls, and John Kerry was below 10 per cent. Iowa changed all
that: Kerry won and went on to secure the nomination. Howard Dean finished third and never
recovered, despite his caucus night bravado.

(To Jerry Mayer) How seriously do those states take their status of being first in the nation?

JERRY MAYER, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Well, how seriously do Australians take beer? I mean, it is
really vital to the identity of New Hampshire and Iowa. It is the only reason many Americans know
these states. It is - if you live in New Hampshire, you have about a one in four chance of shaking
hands with a future president.

MARK SIMKIM: The candidates certainly understand that, and they showed the state remarkable
deference.

JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The candidates owe you, we owe you for taking this as
seriously as you do.

MARK SIMKIM: Some states haven't had a single visit from a presidential candidate this year, but so
far Iowa's hosted more than 15,000 campaign events. Joe Biden accounts for more than 150 of them.

(To Joe Biden) How important is it that Iowa be first in the nation and what do you think of the
other states queue jumping?

JOE BIDEN: It's critical, the reason being it's the only place you can compete without having tens
of millions of dollars.

MARK SIMKIM: Iowa takes its role as first in the nation so seriously there's even a museum exhibit
celebrating and explaining it.

CYNDI PEDERSON, IOWA CULTURAL AFFAIRS (to group of school children): The campaigns have all
strategies. If the weather is bad, they'll have a whole strategy designed to getting people to the
caucuses. And if that means they have to rent buses and vans to go to people's homes and pick them
up, they do that.

MARK SIMKIM: Cyndi Pederson is the director of the Department of cultural affairs. She says the
caucus process encourages retail politics.

CYNDI PEDERSON: Candidates know that you have to meet a voter at least seven times in Iowa. Voters
in Iowa take it very seriously, they're not swayed by star power or any kind of other pressure.
they know they want to understand the issues that candidates stand for and it may take a couple
seven times before they are finally swayer one way or another.

MARK SIMKIM: Yet Iowa's exulted position is under threat. The other states are suffering relevance
deprivation syndrome. Florida, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina brought forward the dates of
their primaries and caucuses, leapfrogging each other, trying to get a bigger say. An avalanche of
states will now vote in early February, including important places like California.

JERRY MAYER: They had a good argument. We are the largest population state in America and we have
not mattered in selecting the nominees for either party since about 1976. There's something wrong
with that.

MARK SIMKIM: To stay at the front of the queue, Iowa moved its caucus to January 3. New Hampshire
could still shift its primary to next month, although January 8 is more likely. The general
election campaign will last nine months, the longest in history.

JERRY MAYER: It is going to influence the outcome, it is very significant for campaigns like
Richardson's, where he is the first Hispanic to run for the presidency from a major party. Well,
Nevada has a lot more Hispanics than New Hampshire does. So the earlier Nevada gets, the earlier
California gets, hypothetically the better Richardson would do.

MARK SIMKIM: It's been an unseemly uncertain rush and the people of Iowa aren't impressed. These
pig farmers say they've been bombarded with political pamphlets and TV ads, and they're even
offered live phone conference calls with candidates. They think the other states are being silly.

MARK HILLERMAN, PIG FARMER: Yeah, just like a bunch of kids playing in the sandbox. Kids.

MARK SIMKIM: In what way are they like kids?

MARK HILLERMAN: Oh, they can't make up their mind, they jump around, everybody wants to be first.
You know, "me first, me first". And most people just sit back, kind of laugh at it, right. I think
it's just ridiculous.

MARK SIMKIM: But should Iowa always go first? Just 200,000 people vote in the caucuses here and yet
they set the agenda for a nation of 300 million people. Overwhelmingly white, reasonably wealthy
and mainly rural, it's hardly the most representative state in the country.

MAN: We're good, hardworking honest people in the corn belt.

SECOND MAN: It brings a lot of money into the Iowa economy.

WOMAN: Having all the people here.

SECOND MAN: And I think it's quite important.

SECOND WOMAN: I think it's just tradition. It's been that way for as long as I can remember.

MARK SIMKIM: The political parties are furious, the Democrats are punishing Florida for changing
dates by prohibiting its candidates from campaigning there.

Many politicians and political scientists agree that the current process is an embarrassment, but
they can't agree on what to do about it. Some thing the smaller states should get to go first.
Others say that a rotating regional system would be better, and some think that an American idol
style phone-in knockout would be preferable to the current mess.

In 2004, nine states voted before early February. In 2008, more than 20 will. Mark Simkin,
Lateline.