For all of the frenzy, for all the massive media crush, for all the ads - nearly 45,000 of them so far, causing John Edwards to ask, "I mean, really, when is it gonna stop?" - it's hard to remember that the results Thursday night will be determined by a tiny sliver of the electorate.
In a nation where more than 120 million went to the polls in November 2004, the Iowa caucus results will likely be shaped by what amounts to a handful of people, reports CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.
This year, estimates are the Democrats will draw perhaps 150,000 to their caucuses, while the Republicans expect about 85,000. That's the total of barely 10 percent of eligible voters here in Iowa.
With both contests appearing close, a change of heart of, say, 5,000 people could mean the difference between triumph and disaster.
By contrast, the 2000 New Hampshire primaries drew 44 percent of eligible voters in that state.
But because Iowa looms so large on the political landscape, the top three Democrats alone have spent some $17 million just on TV ads here.
Add in Republican spending, and money for the mailings that flood the mailboxes in Iowa, and we're likely looking at a $65 million investment to reach at most a quarter of a million caucus-goers.
That comes out to about $275 per vote. At that rate, it would be cheaper for a candidate to drive around the state and handing out $100 bills to every voter.
One more thing: If, in fact, only a handful of voters decide who wins and who loses, will the media have the restraint not to declare winners and losers based on so small a number of participants?
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