Let the Voting Begin

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 8.28.29 AMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Monday, February 1, 2016

Good Monday morning. It is caucus day. After months of stump speeches, debates, fund-raisers and town-hall-style events, the candidates are finally ready to face voters in the nations first nominating contest.

Tonight does not signify the end of the 2016 presidential campaign. But it does signify the end of the beginning, as Iowans head to their caucus sites to nominate their choices for the Democratic and Republican parties.

There have been three years of preparations in some form or another by Hillary Clinton supporters — first by the group Ready for Hillary, and then by her campaign. Now, the former secretary of state, whose last presidential candidacy crashed on the shoals of the caucuses in 2008, is hoping to notch a victory. ButSenator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who has pushed Mrs. Clinton to the left in the primary, has been running a strong and well-funded challenge. Mrs. Clinton could still be seen as a flawed candidate, but her campaign is far better organized in Iowa this time than it was in 2008, and if she wins, it will have contributed significantly.

On the Republican side, Donald J. Trump led the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll, over Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who late last year predicted at a private fund-raiser that Mr. Trump’s campaign would show a gravitational arc. That has not happened in opinion polls, but no votes have yet been cast, of course.

Still, given that many people predicted (including in this space) that Mr. Trump would be long gone from the race by tonight, what he has accomplished, even absent a victory, has been impressive and has changed the nature of the 2016 campaign in both parties.

As for the rest of the G.O.P. field, it is hard to see either Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum continuing without a strong showing in a state each man won in previous elections. Jeb Bush, while he is polling extremely low, is waiting to see what happens in New Hampshire. The same is true for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Ben Carson, who briefly led polls in Iowa, has held at about 10 percent recently. Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio is basically bypassing the state.

Then there is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, whose aides are hoping for a strong third-place showing that could help him finish respectably in New Hampshire.

The ritual of the caucuses has changed this cycle, as the campaigns have become more nationalized — particularly with Mr. Trump in the G.O.P. primary — and as more people question why the state has such prominence in the nominating process. Whether that status is preserved could depend on who wins the caucuses.