The Iowa Caucus kicks off on Jan. 3, the first voting that actually allocates delegates for the Republican National Convention that will nominate the party's presidential candidate. But does the caucus really matter or is it falling into irrelevance?

The Iowa Caucus kicks off on Jan. 3, the first voting that actually allocates delegates for the Republican National Convention that will nominate the party’s presidential candidate. But does the caucus really matter or is it falling into irrelevance?

If the polls are any indication, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is on his way to winning the first-in-the-nation vote. This year, Paul has put together a well-funded organization within the state that rivals the national front-runners. With the Democratic primary settled on re-nominating President Obama, independent voters — a group Paul is doing well with in Iowa — are free to turn out on the Republican side. In addition, Paul supporters might be more likely to brave a cold, snowy night in January to vote for him than would a supporter of Mitt Romney, who is currently polling in second place.

In short, the Iowa Caucus is Paul’s to lose, but so what?

Almost no one believes that Ron Paul has a legitimate shot of becoming the eventual GOP presidential nominee. National polls show Paul’s support at a steady 10 percent, with little fluctuation. His libertarian philosophy is appealing to some but does not have widespread reach across the party, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

For example, in the most recent debate in Iowa, Paul said the United States has no business bombing Iran to keep Tehran from going nuclear. Beyond that, he said it is only natural that Iran would want to go nuclear with neighbors such as Israel and Pakistan that already have nuclear weapons.

This is just one example of his views being out of line with mainstream Republicans. Iowa could be the only state he wins.

It would certainly not be the first time Iowa has failed to pick the eventual nominee. In 2008, Iowans chose Mike Huckabee while John McCain finished fourth. Twenty years earlier, they chose Bob Dole over George H.W. Bush and in 1980 they preferred Bush over Ronald Reagan.

Iowans have not always gotten it wrong. They did pick George W. Bush in 2000. But you have to wonder why Iowa continues to retain its status as the primary kickoff state. The Republican National Committee actually discussed a change last year. Some would like to see the primary calendar move to a regional system. Under such a system, each region of the country would have a chance for a state to hold an early primary. For example, in the next presidential election cycle, instead of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida getting the honor, it could be Indiana, Maine, Arkansas, New Mexico and Oregon. The next cycle would feature five other states getting a turn.

Another idea could be to move to a national presidential primary in which voters in every state would cast ballots on the same day. This idea is mainly favored by larger states such as California and New York, since they would become the biggest kingmakers in the system.

The problem is that neither party has the power or authority to tell the states how to conduct their elections. They can pass delegate selection rules but, as has been frequently demonstrated, states can choose to completely ignore them.

Therefore, we are left with the disorganized system in which a handful of states continue to play a heavier role than others in selecting the presidential nominees for each party. This year, Iowa’s main contribution may actually be to scare Republican voters elsewhere into jumping on the bandwagon of likely Iowa second-place finisher Romney. Although most of the establishment has gotten behind Romney, the base is still lukewarm.

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Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.