Ann Selzer, queen of the Iowa caucuses: For a day, the most powerful woman in American politics

Every presidential candidate, campaign operative and political journalist in Iowa will spend most of Saturday in suspended animation, waiting for the results of the final Des Moines Register poll before the caucuses. The results are scheduled to hit the paper's website at 7 p.m. CT.

The outsize attention paid to the paper's poll findings is in direct proportion to the accuracy it has had in foreshadowing the actual caucus results in elections past.

Four years ago, just 72 hours before the caucuses, the poll delivered a jolt to the Democratic contest in Iowa when the results found that nearly 60 percent of likely caucusgoers were first-timers--portending both a big turnout and a very good night for Barack Obama.

Ann Selzer is the president of Selzer & Company, the polling firm that has conducted the Register's Iowa Poll since 1997. Only Selzer and a handful of reporters and editors at the Register know what surprises are packed in the numbers to be released on Saturday night. On this one day, she is likely to be the most powerful woman in American politics.

I sat down with Selzer on Friday afternoon to get her take on what's driving the Republican electorate in Iowa this year and to learn how she prepares for her big moment at the center of the political universe.

"People look at 2008 and they say 'Well, that's how Iowa is.' And that was a strong social conservative year. The world has changed in four years and everyone is focused on the economy, on jobs, on taxes," Selzer told Yahoo News. "It's a fiscal mood right now. So, the social issues, which dominated Iowa in terms of launching Mike Huckabee, are really far lower down the totem pole. And everybody wants a candidate that can at least check those boxes, but they really want someone who can solve the fiscal problems that we have."

Polling the likely Iowa caucusgoing electorate is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack, but Selzer clearly welcomes the challenge.

"This is the hardest polling assignment a pollster can have," she said. "It's such a small group of people who show up, 120,000 last time out of 2.1 million registered voters."

As the results from the caucuses start coming in Tuesday night from the 1,774 precincts across the state, Selzer may feel as personally invested in the outcome as the candidates.

"We know that on caucus that we'll either be golden or a goat, and we're hoping for gold," she said.

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