Published: Jan 04, 2012 4:24 AM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. - While Iowa officially opened the presidential election season on Tuesday night, Florida stands to play a key role in the process later this month.

"The key political word that's going to come out of Iowa is the momentum," said FGCU history professor Peter Bergerson.

Voters in Iowa picked their presidential preference publicly in caucus meetings across their state Tuesday; a unique process unlikely most states use of primary elections.

"It's not necessarily going to pick who the candidate will be, but it will pick who it won't be," Bergerson said.

Iowa has a reputation of being an early barometer of a candidate's chances, as a poor performance is likely to lead some candidates to drop out.

Iowans don't always choose the winner, either; four years ago, Iowans picked Mike Huckabee, when John McCain went on to be the nominee.

"The advantage here is it then carries over into what might happen in New Hampshire, it then carries over into what might happen here in Florida at the end of the month," Bergerson said.

Florida's January 31st primary is fourth in the process, and stands to be the biggest delegate prize yet for candidates seeking the republican nod.

Tuesday was the final day for florida voters to register. Final registration numbers aren't ready yet, but election supervisors expect plenty of interest.

"I think we are going to have a lot of people getting out there, getting involved. Like '08," said Lee County Election Supervisor Sharon Harrington.

The field is likely to be narrower by the time the candidates come to Florida, as earlier states decide who stays in the race and how much money they have to continue.

"Florida may be the one that really picks the nominee," Bergerson said.

Florida will be where the Republicans officially name their candidate at the convention in Tampa in August.