Winter finally announced itself in Iowa this weekend, a biting, swirling rain that symbolized the launch of something else: After a long windup, the race for the presidency is on.
"No one does it better than Iowa," Mitt Romney said to hundreds of people gathered outside a Hy-Vee supermarket Friday morning. "Look at you out here. With this rain, with the cold, with the wind."
The preliminaries are over. On Tuesday night more than 100,000 hearty Hawkeye State Republicans ó fewer than the turnout for a typical Hillsborough County Commission election ó are expected to gather at nearly 1,800 meetings across the state to winnow the field of Republican presidential candidates.
"We're the kick-start," said Urbandale resident Larry Mersereau, 60, who came out for Romney on Friday but, like many here, was trying to finalize his decision and planned to see Newt Gingrich today. "I wouldn't be out here in this if I didn't take it seriously."
The nominating process culminates in eight months with the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, but Iowans will reduce the options for the rest of the country's GOP voters.