The Iowa caucuses provide the first presidential voting in the United States. The political proverb is that “three tickets come out of Iowa”—the first, second, and third place caucus finishers, who then travel to the New Hampshire presidential primary on their first class, coach, and stand-by tickets. The “three tickets out of Iowa” proverb has been cited in print since at least 1995.
Wikipedia: Iowa caucuses
The Iowa caucus are an electoral event in which residents of the U.S. state of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa’s 1,774 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are 99 counties in Iowa and thus 99 conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa’s Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions
The Iowa caucuses are noteworthy for the amount of media attention they receive during U.S. presidential election years. Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for President of the United States. Although only about 1% of the nation’s delegates are chosen by the Iowa State Convention (25 Republican delegates in 2012, assigned proportionately), the Iowa caucuses have served as an early indication of which candidates for president might win the nomination of their political party at that party’s national convention, and which ones could drop out for lack of support.
30 May 1995, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Iowa offers Dole rivals 2nd place; Key GOP caucus can boost weaker candidate’s chances” by Thomas Hardy, pg. 11:
Iowa political lore says there are three tickets out of the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus and into contention for a party’s nomination: first class, coach and stand-by.
Google News Archive
8 February 1996, Wilmington (NC) Morning Star, “Iowa shapes up as big GOP test,” pg. 4A, col. 1:
DES MOINES, Iowa—As Texas Sen. Phil Gramm sees it, there will only be three tickets out of here after Iowans vote in Monday night’s caucuses and send the top candidates on to primaries in New Hampshire and across the country.
New York (NY) Times
Alexander, After 6-Year Run, Is Short on Time and Money
By MELINDA HENNEBERGER
Published: August 12, 1999
Lamar Alexander is trying hard to stay positive while he runs out of money.
In response, with his voice rising a little, he said, ‘’The real question isn’t the money people but the media. Typically, you wait for a race to start before declaring a winner. The press has traditionally given at least three tickets out of the Iowa caucus. Now at least they ought to give three out of the straw poll.’’
Google News Archive
18 January 2004, Toledo (OH) Blade, “Election 2004,” pg. A5, cols. 5-6:
“Three tickets out of Iowa”
“I’ve always said there are three tickets out of Iowa, and I’m looking for one of them,” Mr. Kerry said last week.
The Iowa Caucuses:
First tests of presidential aspiration, 1972-2008
By John C. Skipper
Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.
Those who say “there are only three tickets out of Iowa” have proven to be right most of the time. David Yepsen, longtime political columnist for the Des Moines Register says the three tickets are “first class, coach and standby.”
Factbox: The three early voting states
Mon Dec 12, 2011 4:31pm EST
The saying there are only “three tickets out of Iowa” comes from the fact that since 1972 almost no candidate has won their party nomination without coming in third place or better in Iowa. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain took 4th.
Donna Brazile: Three tickets out of Iowa and one exit seat
Published: Sunday, January 08, 2012, 6:37 AM
By The Muskegon Chronicle
There’s an old saying that only three tickets are given out by voters in all-important Iowa caucuses. This past week, the Iowans were generous: They added an exit seat.