9 great quotes about the Iowa caucuses

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(CNN)-- When Iowa talks, people listen.

But what do the candidates, operatives and political press horde have to say about the home of these first-in-the-nation caucuses?

Hopefuls with a shot at winning tend to offer a rosier view of the institution than anyone else -- except, that is, the professionals who count on the quadrennial contests to make the state a magnet for presidential aspirants. For those who don't fare well, the answer can be less flattering.

So as the candidates make their final overtures to caucus-goers, here are nine quotes that tell the story of Iowa, warts and all.

1. People (especially in Iowa) have come to some lofty conclusions about the process

"I think the caucuses are what democracies are built on," Charlie Szold, the communications director for the Iowa GOP, told Business Insider last year. "The idea that a group of neighbors will get together to talk and debate and decide who they want to be our next president or our next nominee in this case gets at the very essence of what America is built on."

2. But even winners -- especially Republicans -- face an uncertain future

Donald Trump pointed this out to voters during a rally a few weeks ago, when some polls showed Ted Cruz taking a lead in Iowa.

"You guys haven't picked a winner in a long time, I hate to remind you," the billionaire told supporters. "Come on, Iowa, will you get with it, please?"

3. Not everyone likes how it's done ....

Asked in 2011 why he was pushing resources elsewhere, Jon Huntsman, a moderate Republican former governor of Utah and Obama administration ambassador to China, put it this way:

"I'm not competing in Iowa for a reason. I don't believe in subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans and ethanol. I think they destroy the global marketplace," he told reporters in New Hampshire. "I guess I understand how the politics work there."

(Huntsman finished seventh in the 2012 Iowa contest, a half-point ahead of "No Preference" and "Other.")

4. It's about the extremes

In 2000, when he was governor of Vermont, Democrat Howard Dean told a Canadian broadcaster what he thought of the process:

"If you look at the caucuses system, they are dominated by special interests on both sides and both parties. Special interests don't represent the centrist tendencies of the American people. They tend to represent the extremes."

Dean would go on to lose -- loudly -- Iowa during his up-and-down-and-down, ill-fated presidential primary campaign four years later.

5. Even major press outlets were beginning to have their doubts

"This event is a party run, party administered affair. No voting equipment is being used, and professional election administration officials are not managing the process," read the disclaimer added by the Associated Press four years ago to some of their caucus results coverage.

6. Seriously, it can be a total mess

"We really don't have any set procedures for how to handle things," a volunteer in Lee County told The New York Times in the aftermath of the 2012 mess, in which Mitt Romney appeared to have won on caucus night but Rick Santorum was certified the victor weeks later after some votes that had been counted on caucus night later were permanently lost. "Probably every caucus that's ever happened there have been mistakes and forms not turned in. I know from my own experience."

7. But that doesn't mean political candidates take it any less seriously!

"It's like a student body election. You have to respect the absurdity of it or it'll drive you crazy," said Stuart Stevens, Romney's top strategist in 2012.

8. It didn't get this big by accident

Tom Whitney, the state Democratic chair from 1973 to 1977, explained to Iowa Public Television the party used a bit of trickery to help gain broader media attention:

"Basically, after the '74 elections, we organized a very, very significant kind of effort to convince first the candidates that they ought to be in Iowa because the national press was going to be here, and then to convince the national press that they should be in Iowa because the candidates were going to be here."

9. The thrill of victory

"Thank you, Iowa," then-Sen. Barack Obama said at a rally after his Hawkeye State triumph in 2008 that set him on the road to the White House.

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