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politics briefing

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her daughter Chelsea Clinton, reacts to applause as she arrives for a rally at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)The Associated Press

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

The U.S. presidential contest has gone on for months, and still has months yet to go, but tonight is the first time that voters will actually weigh in. Here are five things to know before flipping on CNN.

> What can you tell me about Iowa?

It's a small state in the American Midwest just west of Illinois, and contains about three million people, or 1 per cent of the total U.S. population. Demographically, it's more white, more rural and has fewer immigrants than the rest of the country, but on other measures – such as age demographics, number of veterans or education levels – the state is fairly representative. The governor is Republican Terry Branstad, and the state has a Democratic Senate and Republican House.

> What are caucuses, exactly?

For this answer, let's turn it over to The Globe's Adrian Morrow, who has been travelling Iowa for the past few weeks:

"When Iowans go to choose a presidential candidate, it's no mere vote. Rather, they caucus, gathering neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood and town-by-town, in church basements, community halls and even peoples' living rooms to exercise their franchise.

"Democratic caucuses are an adult version of Red Rover. Supporters of each candidate gather in different corners of the room and then try to convince supporters of other candidates to come over to their side. If any candidate's group has less than 15 per cent of the total people in the room, that candidate is considered 'non-viable' and his or her supporters have to go to other candidates.

"Republican caucuses are a little simpler. Each candidate sends a representative to speak to the group and make their pitch, then everyone votes by secret ballot.

"There are more than a thousand caucuses across the state."

> Why are the Iowa caucuses important?

Each one of the 50 states has its own contest – either caucuses or a primary – to decide how many delegates for each candidate get sent to the party's nominating convention in the summer. Iowa will send only a relative handful of delegates to the convention, but its contest is important simply because it goes first. That can allow an underdog candidate a chance to seize the popular imagination, as a certain Illinois senator did in 2008, but in general Iowa's caucuses have a mixed record of nominating the eventual winner.

> Which candidate is winning?

For this, let's turn to Nate Silver, probably the most prominent polling analyst in the U.S. He gives Hillary Clinton a 72-per-cent chance of winning the Democratic contest tonight, based on her leads in the polls, while Donald Trump has a 45-per-cent chance of winning the Republican caucuses, followed by Ted Cruz at 40 per cent.

> What's next?

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, New Hampshire residents get to vote in primaries (not caucuses) for who they would like to see as their parties' nominees.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING

> The Canadian government is promoting business in Kuwait even as the United Nations warn of human rights abuses in a Saudi-led coalition's campaign in Yemen. Montreal-based CAE was contracted by the Kuwait Air Force, which is currently conducting air strikes in Yemen.

> Immigration Minister John McCallum has been feeling the heat from his parliamentary colleagues, sources tell The Hill Times, about continuing delays in processing immigration applications.

> The Defence department will be allowed to spend more money on its own – up to $5-million – without going through Public Services and Procurement Canada, which is expected to clear up some red tape in the government procurement system.

> The Liberal government meets with the largest federal union of public servants today for a round of collective bargaining.

> From sending a message through Italy's diplomats to leasing a new building, how Canada can reopen its Iranian embassy in seven (not so) easy steps.

> And Mathieu Bouchard is the senior Quebec adviser in the Prime Minister's Office and the overseer of issues that involve the Trudeau household, but he is a political unknown from a province with a long history of Liberal politics. The Globe's Daniel Leblanc sits down with Mr. Bouchard to find out more. (for subscribers)

SECUREDROP

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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

"The distance from political phenomenon to fighting for survival can sometimes be surprisingly short. It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who swept the nation in his first election and then fought for his political survival in his second election. The challenge in his first mandate was to navigate a topsy-turvy Canadian economy with rampant inflation and hammered by the rising price of oil. Uncertain economic times can be a roller-coaster ride of hope and anxiety for voters. Hope that things can be better and anxiety about job security. This also makes for political turbulence for governments." – Nik Nanos (for subscribers) on the lessons of economic anxiety.

John Ibbitson (Globe and Mail): "Justin Trudeau is just starting to grasp the difficulties of putting his own stamp on Canada's global profile after 10 years of Conservative dominance."

Gordon Gibson (Globe and Mail): "The world changed. It is awash in capital. [Canada's] share of it is now small. Skilled labour is everywhere, often much cheaper. Our only remaining edge is land, aka resources."

Wesley Wark (Globe and Mail): "But the fact that the spy watchdogs have demonstrated they can do their job, does not mean, as the Conservatives would have it, that the job they do is adequate."

Dan Leger (Halifax Chronicle Herald): "In case you missed it, people of Atlantic Canada, we're being told by experts that it's time we abandoned our dream world of subsidized entitlement."

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