Tonight, Iowans will kick off the nation's presidential selection process by being the first to cast votes for one (in some cases, two, or even three) of the candidates. Political freaks (like me) are on the edges of our seats. But the truth is the results will probably be a lot duller and more indecisive than anyone thinks.
On the Democratic side, it will most likely be a muddied mess, with the top three---Clinton, Obama, and Edwards---clustered in an effective tie. One may be slightly ahead of the others, and there may be one ahead and a two-way tie right beneath. But in all likelihood, Iowa won't decide much, and the winning cluster will go on.
On the Republican side, it will most likely be a muddied mess, with the top two---Huckabee and Romney---see-sawing for first, and perhaps clustered in an effective tie. The ones to watch are McCain---who spent very little time and money in Iowa and yet seems to be having a second life there----and Thompson---who isn't going to win anything (including the nomination) but may get something of a pity vote.
So, barring a breakout win by one of the candidates on either side, all of them will jump aboard their chartered jets at about 10:30pm ET and head east. Toward New Hampshire. By this time tomorrow, Des Moines will be a ghost town, Iowa yesterday's newspaper, not heard from again until the night of November 4, when Tim Russert will be wondering aloud where Iowa's electoral votes are going to go.
For the candidates, it's been a long, tiring road to Iowa. Some of them (Clinton) have been campaigning for four years. Many of them (Edwards, Romney) have been campaigning for two years. A few (Giuliani, Obama) have been campaigning for a year. That's a big investment of time and resources. They all want to win, obviously. But how many of them, after all of their blood, sweat, and tears, are going to leave with a lousy T-shirt?