The 2012 caucuses and primaries are finally upon us, and now it can be said: Iowa and New Hampshire may be a thing of the past.
What's fading is not their place in the celestial order as hosts of the first nominating contests, but rather their outsize role in personally sizing up Republican nominees.
An obscure Democratic governor named Jimmy Carterset the paradigm in 1975, when he essentially took up residence in Iowa and shook countless hands on his way to becoming the top named vote-getter in the 1976 caucuses. The Georgia governor's upset victory set him on a path to the presidency.
When Iowa Republicans caucus on Jan. 3, chances are the voters will know more about the candidates from nationally televised debates and interviews than from personal interaction. Ditto the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10.
"If the protester is Time's person of the year, then the debate is the primaries' theme of the year," says Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.