US election: Confessions of a four-time caucus correspondent

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is seen on a television screen as reporters watch the Republican Presidential debate sponsored by Fox News and Google at the Iowa Events Center on 28 January 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa Image copyright Getty Images

I went to my first Iowa caucus in 2004, which I realise makes me a novice by the standards of veterans of the American press corps, who can can wax informatively about the Dukakis campaign of 1988 or even Reagan's triumph in 1980.

But even those four cycles have given me some insight into what makes the Byzantine caucus process so compelling. In some ways Iowa is unique in the US presidential election process but it also represents a snapshot of the broader American mood.

Iowa is exciting, but more than that, it's inspiring. Residents of this large, mid-Western state give the most impressive display of democratic commitment I have ever come across in the West.

It is hard work caucusing and they take it very seriously here. They attend rallies, listen to speeches, put up with endless TV ads and then on a freezing winter's night they schlep through the snow to spend anything up to three or four hours casting a single vote.

I've even sat in a two-hour meeting where local residents were being instructed on how to caucus. They weren't even voting yet, but they still showed up.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Iowa caucuses often attract intimate crowds in homey settings

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Two former senators want to undo US political 'crisis point'

Media caption"When you don’t have agenda, message, vision of what you want to do, you lose the ability to do things"

Trent Lott and Tom Daschle make an unlikely pair. Trent is gregarious, talkative and loud. Tom is retiring, mild-mannered and quiet. Interview them together and their differences are pronounced.

But what makes them almost unheard of as a couple is that Lott is a Republican and Daschle is a Democrat. Specifically they are both former leaders of their respective parties in the US Senate.

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Obama's 'Jedi mind trick' and a revealing admission

Media captionPresident Obama sells his optimistic vision of the state of the US

It was unlike any State of the Union address that President Obama has delivered before. Instead of a laundry list of legislative goals, this speech was about defending his achievements and articulating what he wants his legacy to be.

That, of course, was a highly political task and there were plenty of thinly veiled attacks on his Republican opponents and Donald Trump in particular - although he was never mentioned by name.

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The surprising supporters of Donald Trump

Media captionMany supporters of Donald Trump are women

Donald Trump's popularity has not waned since the summer. If anything, it's got stronger. But who are his supporters?

One recent opinion poll has Mr Trump receiving 41% of the national Republican vote. Now, that poll doesn't mean very much in terms of his chances of actually getting nominated, because what matters at this stage are the early primary states.

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Tough talking wins Donald Trump support

Muslims in New Jersey Image copyright AFP

Donald Trump is not an elected official, he's not even the Republican nominee for the presidential race, so his proposal to ban Muslims from entering America doesn't actually mean a thing in practice.

It is not US policy. It has never been US policy. And I'd bet my life's savings that it will never be US policy.

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Ridge: California shootings "act of terrorism"

Media captionTom Ridge: "I think this is a terrorist attack."

The killings in San Bernardino were an act of terrorism. America's former secretary of homeland security says he is convinced of that.

Tom Ridge acknowledges that he's ahead of the White House and authorities in California in drawing that conclusion. But the amount of weaponry and the pipe bombs made him confident of his conclusion.

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Senator Corker warns of 'erosion' on Iran deal

Media captionSenator Corker warns of erosion on Iran deal

The influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, is worried that the US is ceding too much in its negotiations with Iran.

So worried that he's suggesting the US pull out of the deal if what he calls "the erosion" continues. He is particularly concerned about the inspections clauses in the deal. He says he's hearing (though when I pushed him he wouldn't say from whom) that the right to inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities anytime, anywhere, may be diluted.

Read full article Senator Corker warns of 'erosion' on Iran deal

The Bush name a 'strength and liability' for Jeb

Media captionMatthew Dowd: "[Jeb's] name ties him to the past."

A couple of hundred years ago, give or take a few decades, Americans chucked the Brits out, mostly because of taxes, but also partly to get rid of dynastic monarchy. That is why Jeb Bush is so keen to say he's far more than the brother and son of former presidents. He is, wait for it, his own man.

George W Bush's campaign strategist from the 2004 election, Matthew Dowd, told me today that's Jeb's biggest hurdle - dealing with his brother's legacy.

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Ashton Carter seeks calmer waters in South China Sea

Image caption China's recent expansion in the South China Sea has drawn former enemies - the US and Vietnam - closer together

There is a delicious irony about a US defence secretary admiring the ranks of the Vietnamese military. Forty years after America suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Vietcong, Ashton Carter was here to offer support to the former enemy.

And as is so often the case in global affairs, it is a friendship forged by a common foe.

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California fights drought, but parts of LA stay green

Media captionCalifornians used to luxury living are facing difficult decisions

I've been in Los Angeles for just one day, but in driving around the swanky streets of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, I haven't seen much evidence of brown lawns or shrivelled flowers.

Even the golf course outside my Burbank hotel looks deliciously green. So, how much impact is a four-year-long historic drought having on water consumption in America's most populous state?

Read full article California fights drought, but parts of LA stay green