Dominated by evangelical activists, the Iowa caucuses tend to be better at establishing losers — fourth place or worse usually kills a campaign — than winners.

Winter finally announced itself in Iowa this weekend, a biting, swirling rain that symbolized the launch of something else: After a long windup, the race for the presidency is on.

“No one does it better than Iowa,” Mitt Romney said to hundreds of people gathered outside a Hy-Vee supermarket Friday morning. “Look at you out here. With this rain, with the cold, with the wind.”

The preliminaries are over. Tuesday night more than 100,000 hearty Hawkeye State Republicans — about a quarter of the votes cast in a typical Miami-Dade countywide election — are expected to gather at nearly 1,774 meetings across the state to winnow the field of Republican presidential candidates.

“We’re the kick-start,” said Urbandale resident Larry Mersereau, 60, who came out for Romney on Friday but, like many here, was trying to finalize his decision and plans to see Newt Gingrich on Sunday. “I wouldn’t be out here in this if I didn’t take it seriously.”

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