Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jan. 2, on the last day of campaigning before the 2008 Iowa caucus. (LM Otero/Associated Press)
U.S. Votes 2008
The long road to the White House
A presidential election campaign years in the making
January 2, 2008
Even before George W. Bush was officially sworn in again as U.S. president at the Capitol building on Jan. 20, 2005, the race to find his successor had seemingly begun. Buzz was already quietly building behind marquee names in both parties, such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
Jan. 3 — Iowa caucuses
Even though Iowa is a small state, it's early positioning as the first contest gives it a disproportionate influence. No presidential contender has finished out of the top three here and still won his or her party's nomination.
Jan. 8 — New Hampshire primary
Traditionally the first primary, it is another key indicator of the race to come. A strong showing in Iowa can dramatically boost fortunes here.
Feb. 5 — Super Tuesday
Voters in more than 20 states, from Alabama to West Virginia, participate in primaries and caucuses that will go a long way to choosing both parties' eventual nominees.
June 3 — Last primaries
Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota votes mark the end of primary season. By this point, the race will likely be all but over.
Aug. 25- 28 — Democratic National Convention
The Democrats meet to officially choose their nominee in Denver.
Sept. 1 - 4 — Republican National Convention
The Republicans meet to officially choose their nominee in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The election race begins in earnest.
Nov. 4 — Election day
Americans vote in a general election to choose the president.
Jan. 20, 2009 — Inauguration day
The new president is sworn in at the U.S. Capitol building.
By late 2006, the campaign was had begun in earnest.
The media and political pundits fed the election fever throughout the next 12 months, as the candidates barnstormed and debated their way across the country. Millions were spent on political advertising and organization.
By January 2008 — still almost a year before the November presidential election and months before the Democrats and Republicans officially choose their candidates — the politics had kicked into overdrive.
Such is life in the lengthy process of an American presidential election, a truly marathon event for candidates and voters alike.
Running the primaries gauntlet
In part, the uniquely wide-open nature of the 2008 contest makes the process seem more drawn out this time around. For the first time in 80 years, neither the incumbent nor the sitting vice-president is seeking a nomination. It's a race in extraordinary flux.
But the process in any election cycle is geared towards a lengthy and deliberate campaign, thanks to U.S. electoral tradition and federal law.
For the latter, potential presidential candidates are required to disclose their fundraising activities to U.S. federal regulators. This, in part, explains why contenders form "exploratory committees" months before the leadership contests begin — to amass war chests and gain media attention.
This all leads up to the primaries, held in each state from January to June of an election year.
How these are conducted vary from state to state — they can take the form of a simple statewide election (a primary) or a more complex series of closed party meetings (a caucus). But each contest chooses delegates for a national party convention, held in late summer.
Long before the convention date, however, the nominees have often become clear. So by the spring, an unofficial campaign usually begins.
But, by tradition, the "real" campaign runs after Labour Day to election day, which takes place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, every four years.
A new president is inaugurated in January … just in time for the whole cycle to begin anew.
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