The race is on

The speculations in Iowa are now over. The voices of Republican voters have been heard and they have selected their top choice from among a long list of aspiring candidates to oppose President Obama in November. The race is on.

This is not to say the winner of the Iowa caucus yesterday has the Republican presidential nomination locked up. Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, won Iowa in 2008 but lost the nomination to Senator John McCain, although George W. Bush won Iowa in 2000 and went on to win the White House.

Iowa is a unique state whose demographics and economy are unlike the rest of the country. Its voters are on the ideological extremes, which means its Democrats seems to be more liberal than their counterparts in other states, and its Republicans more conservative with a large Christian conservative influence.

This has meant that the Republican pre-caucus debates have leaned toward a hard-line conservatism where central issues like jobs and the economy have gotten mixed in with promises against abortion and other themes favored by the religious right.

The primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina come next and will signal whether the candidate of the Republican establishment, Mitt Romney, becomes the favorite or if one of his more conservative Tea Party-backed opponents takes the lead.

The Republican Party enters this electoral year at an ideological crossroads, which has been apparent in Congress, and that needs to resolve itself over the course of the campaign in order that the successful nominee secures the support of the party. Maybe even the animosity towards Obama will not be sufficient to bring the party together.

Iowa voters have a special electoral role that political tradition has placed on them. The purpose is not to filter out the candidates but rather to lower the flag at the starting gate.