Iowa, a state known as much for its political straw polls as its rolling prairies, has a tendency to re-elect its governors, so when Democratic Gov. Thomas Vilsack decided not to seek a third term in 2006, the race for his seat was thrown wide open.
The Republican candidate, who ran unopposed in his state's primary, is
eight-term Rep. Jim Nussle, representing Iowa's 1st District.
Iowa's Secretary of State Chet Culver won the June 6 Democratic primary by 5 percentage points more than his next closest competitor.
The state's voting history has swayed back and forth between party lines. For example, in the 2004 presidential election, 50 percent of voters selected President Bush, while 49 percent voted for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
But in the 2002 gubernatorial election, Vilsack won with 53 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for his Republican challenger Doug Gross. But the campaign, if it is a harbinger of 2006, was a bruising affair.
"The race for governor of Iowa is the political equivalent of a World War I trench battle. Lots of effort and treasure have been spent for little or no gain," political writer David Yepsen wrote in the Des Moines Register at the time. "Polls show Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack and Republican challenger Doug Gross have been in a close contest for three months. It's an Iowa 'Battle of Verdun.'"
That closeness of political competition is reflected in its congressional delegation as well, with the state boasting one Republican and one Democratic senator, but four GOP and one Democratic congressmen.
Iowa's population has increased slowly over the generations, from 674,000 in 1860 to 2.2 million in 1900 and 2.9 million in 2000, according to U.S. Census data.
But while the population has slowly risen overall, the number of congressional districts has declined -- from 11 in 1900 to five today.
The state is still No. 1 in pork, corn and soybean production, but in the 1980s saw farm prices and land values plummet. Many farm implement factories closed and 5 percent of its citizens left, according to the National Journal's Almanac of American Politics.
While its farm population continued to fall in the 1990s, Iowa grew in other ways. Its high literacy and work ethic helped promote white-collar and high-tech industries, especially in its larger cities of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, the Almanac says.
Iowa strongly supported NAFTA and normal trade relations with China, and skews toward a balanced budget mentality.
And in January in presidential election years, all eyes turn to the state for its precinct caucuses -- the first held in the United States that helps determine who will lead the nation.