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Washington: A pack of Democratic and Republican presidential aspirants with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump leading have been 'running' for months now but the race for the White House really gets going in Iowa on Monday.
In India, the nominees are usually picked up by party leaders, but in the American two party system people get to have a say at caucuses or party meetings and primaries with 250,000 voters in the Midwestern state of Iowa traditionally getting the first word.
And they do it the way they have been doing for ages, meeting in schools, churches and homes in 1,774 voting precincts at 7 in the evening, discussing candidates and electing delegates who would eventually vote at the national party conventions in July.
Those registered as Democrats or Republicans go to their respective caucuses and unregistered independents can go to either registering at one or the other even that very day. But they vote in very different ways.
Democrats would gather at separate tables set for each candidate as they judge their viability. Supporters of a candidate who does not meet the viability threshold can either go home or shift their loyalties to another candidate.
At the end 52 Democratic delegates would be allocated proportionately.
Republicans, on the other hand, use a straw poll system using chits of paper or a formal ballot to finally allot the state's 30 delegates to the winner.
Besides Iowa, a dozen other states and two US territories use the caucus system to determine which Republican and Democratic presidential candidates their delegates will support in the nomination process.
Rest of the 37 states hold primaries organised by the government to choose delegates of the two parties, with 14 of them holding open primaries where voters don't have to be affiliated to a particular party to vote in a primary.
Then again most states follow the winner-take-all system with all the delegates legally bound to vote for a particular candidate, while others allocate delegates proportionately.
In addition, the Republicans have 'unpledged delegates' and Democrats Super delegates - largely party officials and functionaries - who are free to vote for any one. They are sometimes in a position to tilt the scales in a tight election.
After Iowa, voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will choose between each party's candidates over the month of February to pick up three percent of Democratic delegates and 5 percent of the Republican delegates.
Though the four early states offer only a tiny fraction of delegates to the candidates, a win there gives them a momentum before 'Super Tuesday' on March 1 when a dozen more states vote to pick up one fifth Democratic and a quarter Republican delegates.
The question as Iowans make their choices on Monday is whether insurgent real estate mogul Donald Trump would be able to translate his support in the polls into a 'huge' win that could well put him on the road to nomination.
And whether Hillary Clinton would be able to beat the challenge of self-styled Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders or would she stumble again as she did in 2008 when she finished third with a little known junior senator named Barack Obama finishing first?
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians. (IANS)