The Republican primary race has kicked off in earnest. The Iowa caucus (see here for an explanation of caucuses/primaries) marked the beginning of a flood of votes as Republican voters choose a candidate. In a race that has so-far been defined by the prevalence of the unforeseen, it is impossible to know what the next few months will hold. If you're confused by the baffling array of votes taking place, here is a guide to when they're happening, what they mean, and who we can expect to do well
Broadly, the primaries will follow this schedule:
1 February - 5 March: Contests of traditional early states Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina
6 March - 31 March: Contests that proportionally allocate delegates
1 April and onward: All other contests including winner-take-all elections
See below for a list of all primaries and caucuses that have been announced.
Who is running?
Michele Bachmann: US Representative from Minnesota's 6th Congressional District
Herman Cain: Businessman and radio-host from Georgia (campaign suspended on 3 December, following a series of sexual harrassment allegations)
Newt Gingrich: Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia
Jon Huntsman: Former Governor of Utah and US Ambassador to China
Gary Johnson: Former Governor of New Mexico
Ron Paul: US Representative from Texas's 14th congressional district
Rick Perry: Governor of Texas
Mitt Romney: Former Governor of Massachusetts
Rick Santorum: Former Senator for Pennsylvania
All eyes are on this state, which provides the first indication of which way voters will go. While success in Iowa does not necessarily translate into ultimate victory, it is a reasonable indication of whether a candidate's message is getting through, and can have far-reaching implications for the rest of the race. In the past, some candidates have dropped out altogether after a poor showing in Iowa.
UPDATE 4 JANUARY: Mitt Romney has won in Iowa, beating Rick Santorum by just eight votes.
Another state that has drawn attention is Virginia -- because several candidates have failed to qualify to appear on the 6 March ballot after failing to provide the required 10,000 verified signatures. It is a particular blow for Gingrich -- whose campaign said that the state's electoral system is "failed" -- as he was leading the polls in the state. Four other candidates have also been excluded, with only Romney and Paul qualifying.
Almost all of the Republican candidates have had their time in the frontrunner spot at one point or another during this race. After a brief period on top, Gingrich is slipping behind once again, leaving the top spot open for Romney. However, the numbers are far from those traditionally enjoyed by the favourite. A poll by Rasmussen Reports last week gave Romney 25 per cent, followed by Paul on 20 per cent and Gingrich on 17, with the other candidates trailing behind with 10 per cent or less. Another poll, by Iowa State University, placed Paul on 27 per cent, Gingrich on 25, and Romney on just 17.
3 January: Iowa (caucus)
10 January: New Hampshire (primary)
21 January: South Carolina (primary)
31 January: Florida (primary)
4 February: Nevada (caucus)
4-11 February: Maine (caucus)
7 February: Colorado (caucus), Minnesota (caucus)
28 February: Arizona (primary), Michigan (primary)
3 March: Washington (caucus)
6 March: Alaska (caucus), Georgia (primary), Idaho (caucus), Massachusetts (primary), North Dakota (caucus), Ohio (primary), Oklahoma (primary), Tennessee (primary), Vermont (primary), Virginia (primary)
6-10 March: Wyoming (caucus)
10 March: Kansas (caucus), U.S. Virgin Islands (caucus)
13 March: Alabama (primary), American Samoa (caucus), Hawaii (caucus), Mississippi (primary)
17 March: Missouri (caucus)
18 March: Puerto Rico (caucus)
20 March: Illinois (primary)
24 March: Louisiana (primary)
3 April: Maryland (primary), Texas (primary), Washington DC (primary), Wisconsin (primary)
24 April: Connecticut (primary), Delaware (primary), New York (primary), Pennsylvania (primary), Rhode Island (primary)
8 May: Indiana (primary), North Carolina (primary), West Virginia (primary)
15 May: Nebraska (primary), Oregon (primary)
22 May: Arkansas (primary), Kentucky (primary)
5 June: California (primary), Montana (primary), New Jersey (primary), New Mexico (primary), South Dakota (primary)
26 June: Utah (primary)
To be announced: Guam (caucus), Northern Mariana Islands (caucus)