I went to Iowa last weekend to check out the GOP field. Yes, it’s still very early in the process. And, yes one dinner featuring eleven potential candidates and 1,200 or so GOP voters can’t tell you who’s going to win in February. Even so, I find these events – bracketed by smaller meet-and-greets between candidates and voters - to be a useful exercise. You can’t predict how a race will end, if you don’t understand where it begins. What are the expectations of the voters? What is the mood of the party activists? Which candidates have room to grow and which are clearly at their ceiling? Although the Republican Lincoln Day dinner in Des Moines was described as a cross-section of the Iowa Republican voters, the crowd was decidedly more Mitt Romney than Rand Paul (in fact, Paul was the only candidate of the 11 not to host a post-dinner "hospitality" party). It was also missing some serious Iowa contenders including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. 2008 Caucus winner Mike Huckabee was also absent Here’s what I learned:

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