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Iowa Votes: Three Key Points You Should Keep In Mind

Iowa map
AP
Iowa map

Here are three things to watch for when Iowans vote tonight:

1) Mobilization: if Democratic turnout is huge, that's a sign that Barack Obama has succeeded in pulling out enough independent voters to win. It would also show the energy and enthusiasm that Democrats hope will give them an edge in the general election. Republican turnout will be smaller but the question is where: if the conservative christians in rural Iowa come out in force, that means Mike Huckabee could hold his lead.

2) Message: Americans want change but the question is what kind. Victories by Edwards and Huckabee would increase the voice of main street populism in both parties as the economy slows. Victories by Clinton and Romney would signal that democrats and republicans want to stick more closely with their economic policies of the recent past.

3) Momentum: for the winners, Iowa produces energy, publicity and money to the states to follow. An Obama victory would make him a major threat to Hillary Clinton--in new Hampshire and for the democratic nomination. a Romney win could make him the Republican front-runner for the same reason.

But even losers can get a boost from a surprisingly strong showing. that's why John McCain staged a late trip to Iowa last night--hoping that third place could give him a bump in new Hampshire where he and Romney are running neck and neck.

Questions? Comments? Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.