Two years ago, the national media swirled around and inside Iowa on caucus night, waiting to see who would emerge as the leading man in the search for a Democratic challenger to President George W. Bush.

Last year, only the hardest of hard core registered party voters turned out to conduct official business.

Today, just like last year, caucus-goers of both parties will begin the selection process for delegates to next summer’s state conventions, and will begin drafting their party platform.

Choices made tonight could hold even more significance for the many Democrats hoping to get their party’s gubernatorial nomination.

In the June 6 primary, a candidate must get 35 percent of the vote to claim the party nomination. If none of the rivals can reach 35 percent, the party’s nominee will be chosen at the June 17 convention. With just two leading Republican candidates, the 35 percent threshold is not likely to be an issue in June.

However, residents of Iowa’s First Congressional District, which includes Clinton and Jackson counties, have plenty at stake as a large group of candidates of both political persuasions has emerged to seek a seat in a race with no incumbent.

On the surface, caucuses may seem too intricate for the outsider and a bad time to get involved with the political process. Quite the opposite is true, though, as each caucus site is likely to have at least one person willing to explain the process to newcomers, if not a room full of people welcoming a fresh face.

The caucus system in Iowa is something that sets it apart from many other states. There isn’t much that’s more grass roots than what will be happening tonight at schools and community buildings throughout the state.

Those without a political party may be left out, but those who lean strongly to the left or right, whether registered voters or not, ought to take some time tonight to become involved in the political process in a way that many Americans will never be able to experience.

All it costs is a few hours of your time. The reward could be priceless.