We're six weeks and eight contests into the nomination contests. But just four cycles ago, today was our starting date: February 12, 1996, the last time the Iowa Caucuses were outside of January.
It was a Republican-only race that cycle, too. Bob Dole was the first two-time caucus winner, and remains the only Republican to pull it off twice (caveat: Iowa Republicans don't vote in re-election cycles).
What might have been: Pat Buchanan was within 3% of Dole, but the fundamentalists in Cedar Rapids backed Alan Keyes instead; Keyes thus won the second biggest county. One minister at one mega-church makes a different choice, and we’d have had a major upset.
Other than that, Iowa winnowed out Dick Lugar and helped scuttle Phil Gramm. Steve Forbes made his first run, but the best part was Morrie Taylor, the tire magnate who literally tried to buy a win one vote at a time. He failed miserably but looked like he had more fun than the rest put together.
So, how many more times would the lead have flipped if Iowans had gotten another six weeks? And what did the national parties do that cycle to keep the calendar sane?