WATCH: 2020 Iowa caucuses

What are the Iowa caucuses and why do they matter?

They’re essentially small local meetings where neighbors and strangers stand up to show their support for a particular candidate, and to persuade others to join them. Iowa’s 41 national delegates are up for grabs, but the real stakes for the candidates are all about momentum.

The caucuses are the first opportunity for Democrats to express their preferences in what’s been a long and tumultuous primary. They set the tone for the month-long sprint through the early primary states, after which the field of candidates is typically culled.

The winner usually receives a boost in media attention and fundraising that can propel them through subsequent contests. An unexpectedly bad performance, meanwhile, can hobble a candidate.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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