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Significant turnout is expected in region for Iowa's caucuses

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- Mike Koenecke is expecting such a large showing for Tuesday's caucuses, the Dickinson County Republican co-chair had to find a bigger space.

"On the big elections, we get big turnouts," Koenecke said. "If it's an off year and non-presidential, it's not as big by a long stretch because there is a lot more interest in presidential ones, period.

"We're going to a bigger meeting room this year by quite a bit because we were packed in like sardines. You get a lot, especially if you get a block that for on in particular, they will try to grow that to see if they can help their candidate a little bit there."

It's been a wild campaigning season for the Republican candidates vying for the nomination in the 2012 election.

With Tuesday's Iowa caucuses -- the first in the nation -- the political picture may become a little more clear.

"We have quite a unique position and I hope people do appreciate it," said Mary Beltman, the Republican co-chair in Osceola County. "Iowa does carry a lot of weight in the nation.

"I don't think always Iowans understand and appreciate that the other states don't get this attention," Beltman added. "They don't have the opportunity to meet the presidential candidates like we do. It's quite an honor and we hold quite a bit of importance and power in that way. I hope everybody will take that seriously and avail themselves in the opportunity to participate in the caucuses and the presidential straw poll."

A late December Des Moines Register poll has Mitt Romney holding a slight lead, with 24 percent. Ron Paul is second with 22 percent, while Rick Santorum is making a late charge.

In Osceola County, Romney hasn't had the same following.

"I'm not sure how well (he'll do) in our county," Beltman said. "We've not heard too much from his group. We're kind of a smaller county, so sometimes some of the presidential candidates kind of bypass us a little bit. He certainly hasn't visited our county and some of these other presidential candidates have, so that always garners quite a bit of support.

"I think Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are popular. Ron Paul has somewhat of a following; he did four years ago as well."

The push for Santorum and Bachmann can be, in part, attributed to their appearances in the county. Bachmann made a recent stop in Sibley -- the county seat-- while Santorum visited earlier in 2011.

Meanwhile, in Dickinson County, Koenecke sees a wide array of favorites.

"There is a lot of diversity, I think everybody is going to have a hard time picking out their choice this year," he said. "I think it's still across the board, I really do. But, it's still of the opinion that anything is better than we have going now."

To be able to participate in Tuesday's GOP caucuses, voters have to be a registered Republican.

"You can come as a Registered Democrat or independent, but you have to switch that night from what you have been," Koenecke said. "To be able to vote in it, you'd have to change your party affiliation."

As always, there are numerous issues on voters' minds.

"Jobs and the economy is a huge thing," Beltman said. "The Obamacare is not well received. The government spending and the huge federal deficits and the lack of jobs and the lack of concern over jobs and the housing industry and how it has been demolished over the past years. I think there is concern over how immigration has been handled. Legal immigration, I think, is well-received by all Americans, that's how we all got here, but the illegal immigration is an issue. I don't think it's as big of an issue as the jobs and the economy and the federal deficit and the Obamacare."

Just like their neighbors, Beltman is expecting a large turnout in Osceola County.

"They were quite active four years ago, too," she said. "There was a lot of interest in the caucuses four years ago, I think there was a big push for some change. I think we will see a good turnout Tuesday.

"I just hope that people do come out and participate and be involved and stay involved throughout the election period next year."

Even though it's been a long process, Koenecke said the hard work and the time commitment are worth it in the end.

"It's kind of time consuming by the time you're start to finish," he said. "But you'd like to think your helping out your state and the United States when you're done."