Iowa's seven electoral college votes have swung between the main parties in recent years.
Though Iowa was generally Democratic in the 1990s, Al Gore won here only narrowly in 2000, and George W Bush managed to claw a tight win in 2004.
Iowa was the scene of Barack Obama's big breakthrough in the race for the Democratic nomination, and he is still popular with voters here, if the polls are to be believed, making Iowa one of the Democrats' most likely pick-up opportunities in November.
Because of Iowa's position in the election calendar (it holds the first contest in the parties' presidential nomination races), the 1.8 million voters in this mostly agricultural state can use their disproportionate influence to put farming interests firmly on the political map.
Federal subsidies for ethanol (a product derived from farmers' grain) are one of the big issues here.
Population: 2,982,085 (ranked 30 among states)
Governor: Chet Culver (D)
Electoral College votes: 7
Aspiring presidential candidates face the choice of supporting the subsidies or losing vital support in the caucuses.
It is not hard to see why agriculture is so important. The landscape here is characterised by endless fields of corn and more than 100,000 farms. It is one of the biggest producers of pork, beef, corn, soybean and grain in the US.
The state resisted heavy industry for most of the 20th Century, hoping that agricultural protectionism would keep its farmers afloat.
House of Representatives:
3 Democrat, 2 Republican
Senate: 1 Democrat, 1 Republican
When farm prices fell and land values tumbled in the 1980s, 7% of the population moved away.
But the economy picked up in the 1990s, with more diversity of jobs.
Today Iowa is experiencing growth in high-tech and bio-tech industries, and has a low unemployment rate.
2004: Bush 50%, Kerry 49%
2000: Bush 48%, Gore 49%
1996: Clinton 50%, Dole 40%
In education, Iowa has had some of the highest SAT results in the nation for the past 20 years and its insurance industry, centred around state capital Des Moines, is one of the largest in America.
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