The nation may be focusing on Iowa today, but the real action is way down the road, perhaps this year all the way to California.
New Republican rules will change the political architecture of the nominating process. For example, unlike the past when many state Republican primaries operated on a winner-take-all basis, this year all states holding primaries before April 1 must utilize a proportional representation format.
That means it will be more difficult for any one candidate to assemble large blocks of delegates in just a few states, therefore increasingly the likelihood of a pattern that will distribute delegates among several candidates.
Another new rule: Bye, bye Super Tuesday. Remember 2008? On Feb. 21, 2008, 31 states held primaries and caucuses, most with the winner-take-all format. That was the day that John McCain locked up the nomination.
Not this year, however. "Super" Tuesday on March 6 will feature only 10 primaries and caucuses, far less punch than four years ago. The new format actually stretches out the process, again making it difficult for any candidate to lock up the nomination early.
All of which takes us to California. For many, California seems a step child to the Republican nomination process because of its primary date, which is June 5. Yet because of the changes mentioned above, California with its 173 delegates -- more than any other state -- may prove a juggernaut after all if the field remains crowded and the nomination still open.
Sure, lots of things can happen between now and June 5, and that's the point. With a new system that divides delegates among candidates and elongates the process, there will be more ups and downs than Republicans typically experience. And it all may end the place where few expect -- California.