Pundits, journalists and politicians alike have been talking about the impending January 3 Iowa Caucuses to the exclusion of almost everything else over the holidays, with the exception of Anderson Cooper, of course, who kept us amused with his annual New Year’s Eve date with Kathy Griffin.

But just how important is Iowa to the ultimate outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination?  Historically, it’s proven not to be much of an indicator of who the eventual GOP choice will be — Mike Huckabee was the Republican winner in 2008.  Remember Huckabee?  Iowa was his moment in the spotlight, but he was out of the race by early March.

Not to mention the fact that the caucuses aren’t really like any of the other primary elections — there’s plenty of politicking and electioneering right up until the end, and the “voting” locations are often in private homes, where  people are vying to change each others minds until they write some name on a slip, fold it in half and drop it into a hat (or some other non-secure container!).  The outcome of the voting in Iowa’s 99 precincts doesn’t exactly determine how the state’s electors will cast their votes at the Republican Convention, because there are still several Iowa events after the January 3 caucus where that will be determined, so depending on who’s ahead in the GOP race a couple months down the road, the Iowa “winner” could look a whole lot different than it will in a couple of days.

Pretty much the only reason we focus on Iowa is because it’s the first “primary” of the 2012 season, which gives the Hawkeye State a little bit of political gravitas it wouldn’t receive otherwise, since it only has seven electoral votes, and gives that state an opportunity to wield some influence over who stays in the race.

So in this election cycle’s search for the perfect GOP candidate who can beat Barack Obama, who is the likely winner in Iowa?  It’s always hard to predict, but it’s even tougher this year as Republican voters have been changing their minds as much on which candidate they prefer about as often as Lady Gaga has costume changes.  Just before the December holidays, it looked like it was neck and neck between Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, and someone is buying ad time to encourage voters to caucus for Sarah Palin, even though she’s not even in the running.  But former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is closing the gap, and I’m predicting he’ll pull out a conservative-based win because the Christian right loves his personal story.

So if you were an Iowa voter, whose name would you write on that slip of paper tomorrow night?