The best way to watch the Iowa Republican caucus depends on how much of a political junkie you are. If you're a super nerd, you can watch the actual Iowans scribble down their actual votes on actual pieces of paper on C-SPAN at 7:45p.m. EST. If you are less of a nerd, you can scan for the entrance polls, which, as The Washington Post's Jon Cohen points out, can produce skewed results. And if you're a cool kid, you can follow the results here, on The Atlantic Wire's live blog.
Our live blog will actually have two parts: up here in the main post, we'll be following the numbers as they trickle in, as well as all the important developments such as teary-eyed speeches, but the main action will be down in comments where your host and some friends will be following the TV coverage, sweater vests, and other to-the-minute developments. Why don't you join us? The best contributions will be posted up here in the main post.
How tonight works: At 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. in Iowa) voters go to the 1,774 precincts. A local will read a statement from each candidate asking for support. Then the voters write down their pick on paper -- unlike Democrats, candidates don't have to get a critical level of support or lose their votes and there are no second choice votes. These pieces of paper are tallied and the results are reported, usually between 8:30pm. and 10p.m., the Wall Street Journal says. Before that, entrance polls will come in a few waves. If the numbers themselves don't leak out -- expect them to leak out -- the media outlets that subscribe to them will start hinting unsubtly that so-and-so is having a good night while people in who want to appear in-the-know will give clues on Twitter. Eventually, the numbers from the precincts will be tallied -- The New York Times has a place to view them -- and we will all know the crucial order of finish by bedtime, hopefully.
See you at 8 p.m.
Update: The liveblogging has begun!
5:30 a.m.: The count as it stands his morning has "Mittens" edging his new rival Santorum by just eight votes, or roughly the number of people you can fit into a full-size minivan.
2:13a.m.: Even though Romney officially won, he lost, according to the conventional wisdom. He got cocky earlier this week, saying he was going to win. But Politico's Jonathan Martin says, "This was not the nite Mitt wanted." His semi-victory speech was awkward, which his campaign says was because he wanted to "speak from his heart," Politico reports. Slate's John Dickerson says Santorum's tie is a win, too: "Santorum is now the only Flavor of the Week candidate to actually win anything, which makes him a genuine threat to Romney, at least for the moment." And National Review's Rich Lowry tweets, "Ok, now that it looks like romney won by 14 votes its safe to say his [Iowa] strategy was BRILLIANT."
2:03a.m.: Karl Rove says on Fox News that when all the miscounted votes and missing votes are tallied, Romney wins by 14 votes.
CBS News' Jan Crawford says the Romney campaign confirms to her the same tally -- a 14 vote win.
Fox's Brett Baier reports a second source has confirmed Rove's account.
1:42a.m.: CNN says it's Santorum with 29,956 votes to Romney with 29,957. That's a single vote difference.
Yet Google has a few more votes counted, Santorum with 29,968 to Romney with 29,964.
1:31a.m.: Fox reports that votes are missing from two precincts.
1:20a.m.: With 99.9 percent of precincts reporting, it's Santorum with 29,944 votes to Romney with 29,926.
Update: Nope, there's still a fraction of a percent of votes to count.
12:41a.m.: Romney: "America wins."
12:36a.m.: Santorum and Romney are separated by five votes right now, with 98 percent of votes in.
12:25a.m.: Romney HQ is watching Santorum:
12:18a.m.: Santorum: "Game on."
He thanks god and talks about how his grandfather immigrated from Italy because "he knew fascism would crush his spirit and his freedom."
12:04a.m.: First, Santorum is checking the same maps we are:
Second, we are typing "a.m." now.
11:52p.m.: Perry's concession speech has the best lighting so far:
He struggles to read a rather moving bit of fan mail:
11:41p.m.: With 96 percent of the vote in, 79 votes separate Santorum and Romney.
11:33p.m.: Bachmann says "the people of Iowa have spoken..." to say that they're ready to "take the country back from Barack Obama. "The people of Iowa chose tonight. It wasn't the pundits, it wasn't the media." In other words, even if she didn't win, at least the media lost.
11:31p.m.: Awaiting Santorum:
11:26p.m.: With 93 percent reporting, Santorum and Romney are tied, with 24.7 percent and 24.6 percent, respectively.
11:21p.m.: Gingrich starts his speech complaining about the attack ads against him. Then, after congratulating Ron Paul, goes into a lengthy discussion of Paul's foreign policy and how it would risk an Iranian nuclear bomb.
And after attacking Romney, says people in the wars overseas are fighting for our rights to vote, and we should do 'em proud by running clean campaigns.
11:12p.m.: Ron Paul tells supporters there's nothing to be ashamed of. "We're essentially three winners, three voter-getters."
Then a soldier in uniform says this is like meeting a rock star:
You can tell he means it:
11:08p.m.: Michael Li notes that Santorum spent $1.65 per vote, while Perry spent $817.00.
10:50p.m.: With 80 percent of the vote in, NBC News projects Paul will finish third.
10:46p.m.: With 55 percent of the vote in, NBC News has Romney with 25 percent, Santorum with 23 percent, Ron Paul with 21 percent.
10:32p.m: Fox finishes its projection of the second tier:
10:28p.m.: If the numbers hold, Romney will have performed worse than he did in 2008.
10:02p.m.: NBC says it's not going to project the winner because the votes are so close. The network is going to wait till all the votes are tallied. That's going to take a while, judging by the process in Smithland, Iowa:
(Photo via Associated Press.)
9:45p.m: Google shows Santorum doing very well in rural areas:
9:33p.m.: If the poll numbers are close to accurate, Paul will have won with the lowest percentage ever, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says.
9:21p.m.: The New York Times' Allison Kopicki points out that Romney got the plurality of voters who think beating Obama is the most important thing, who make more than $100,000 a year, who said the economy is the most important issue, and who are 65 and older.
9:15p.m.: The mysterious Huntsman-mocking tweet has reappeared in Ron Paul's feed!
9:02p.m.: BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller reports Ron Paul's campaign mocked Jon Huntsman on Twitter, and then took it back.
The tweet has been deleted.
8:58p.m.: Entrance polls say a third of voters say the most important quality in a candidate is the ability to beat President Obama, the Associated Press reports. A quarter say being a true conservative matters most.
8:54p.m.: CNN: Last entrance poll shows Paul with 24 percent, Romney with 23 percent, Santorum with 19 percent, and Gingrich with 13 percent.
8:51p.m.: A bold prediction from Fox:
8:48p.m.: The high-tech vote calculating system in Urbandale:
"Make sure there aren't any on the floor here." "Double check the floor." "Make sure you're not sitting on any."
8:46p.m.: The New York Times' Nate Silver points out that almost 30 percent of voters say they're Democrats or independent, which is a lot higher than in 2008, and entrance polls so far show about half are voting for Paul. The percentage of moderates so far is 20 percent, double the 2008 level, and those folks are voting for Paul too.
8:37p.m.: The Hill's Christian Heinze notes the Fox News entrance poll shows Tea Partier support breaking down like this: Paul 25 percent, Santorum 24 percent, Romney 18 percent, Gingrich 15 percent.
8:33p.m.: MSNBC posts these numbers: Paul 43 percent, Perry 19 percent, Romney 14 percent. But with only 1 percent reporting!
8:30p.m.: Political Wire's Teagan Goddard says, "Entrance poll numbers will seem way off from final results as caucus attendees can react to the data as it comes in on their phones." Paul 24 percent, Romney 24 percent, Santorum 18 perfect, Gingrich 13 percent, Perry 11 percent, Bachmann 7 percent.
8:18p.m.: Early entrance polls show the same thing polls have showed for the last week: the top three are Romney, Santorum, and Paul, the Associated Press reports. According to CNN, right now Paul is getting 55 percent of voters under 30 and 37 percent for first-time caucus-goers.
C-SPAN's live coverage from Urbandale showed Karen Santorum making the pitch for her husband. She mentioned her large family several times in the first couple minutes of her speech.