In 588 days, Americans will elect the next president of the United States.
Hey, wait a minute: That's more than a year and a half away. So why is it that every day there are headlines, news reports and photographs of all these people running for president?
And why should you care if you won't be old enough to vote Nov. 4, 2008?
KidPost's Tracy Grant explains the election process, why it has started so early and, hopefully, why you really should care.
Check the calendar
While the general election isn't until November 2008, the first votes in the process of deciding who will be the next president will be cast less than 10 months from now. On Jan. 14 voters in Iowa will meet to choose delegates to represent them at the party conventions in August and September of 2008.
There are two major political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Each party will nominate a candidate after a series of elections called caucuses and primaries. In the month or so following the Iowa caucuses, people in as many as two dozen other states will vote for their choice to be their party's nominee. The candidate who does best in these early elections often goes on to win his or her party's nomination.
A historic election, part one
Much of the time, it's fairly clear who is going to be the nominee of at least one, if not both, of the major parties. For example, if a first-term president decides to seek re-election, it's rare for someone in his own party to challenge him. (By law, President George W. Bush cannot seek a third term.) Sometimes when a president can't run, the vice president will. If he does, he is pretty much guaranteed his party's nomination.
The election of 2008 will be the first time since 1952 that neither a sitting president nor vice president will be running for office. The uncertainty about who will be the nominees makes this election more exciting.
A historic election, part two
The election of 2008 has the potential for an important first in U.S. history. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (a Democrat) is seeking to become the first female president. Sen. Barack Obama (also a Democrat) would be the first black president. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (another Democrat) would be the first Hispanic president, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (a Republican) would be the first Mormon president.
Who may become president?
The Constitution has some rules on this. You have to be at least 35 years old. You have to be a natural-born citizen, and you have to have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.
It's not in the Constitution, but you need to have (or be able to raise) a lot of money to run for president. The Democratic and Republican nominees could each wind up spending $500 million before the election. Candidates raise money from people and groups who believe in their positions on the issues of the day. It costs a lot of money to fly around the country campaigning and to buy ads on radio and TV and in newspapers. The government, through the Federal Election Commission, keeps track of how much money candidates get and from whom.
The president affects issues such as education, war, the environment, crime and the economy (the cost of food, clothing and housing; how many people are employed; how much of what people earn gets paid to the government as taxes). In other words, he or she affects decisions about your world.
More than a dozen people have announced that they are running for president in 2008. Here's a quick look at six leading candidates in each major party.
Job: Senator from DelawareAge: 64Family: Married, three childrenFun fact: Took office at age 30 - the fifth-youngest U.S. senator.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Job: Senator from New YorkAge: 59Family: Married, one childFun fact: She is the first former first lady elected to the U.S. Senate.
Job: Senator from ConnecticutAge: 62Family: Married, two childrenFun fact: He and his dad, Thomas Dodd, were the first father and son elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut.
Job: Lawyer and former senator from North CarolinaAge: 53Family: Married, three childrenFun fact: Among his favorite Web sites are the University of North Carolina men's and women's basketball teams.
Job: Senator from IllinoisAge: 45Family: Married, two childrenFun fact: His father was a goat herder in Kenya who won a scholarship to a university in Hawaii.
Job: Governor of New MexicoAge: 59Family: Married, no childrenFun fact: He spent his childhood in Mexico, his mother's country.
Job: Senator from KansasAge: 60Family: Married, five childrenFun fact: His Senate Web site has a photo of him riding a rodeo bull.
Job: Lawyer and former mayor of New York CityAge: 62Family: Married, three childrenFun fact: He lost his first bid for mayor in the closest election in New York City history.
Job: Former governor of ArkansasAge: 51Family: Married, three childrenFun fact: Since 2003, he has lost 110 pounds and run in four marathons.
Job: Senator from ArizonaAge: 70Family: Married, seven childrenFun fact: He was profiled in KidsPost about his book "Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember."
Job: Former governor of MassachusettsAge: 60Family: Married, five childrenFun fact: He was the boss of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Job: Former governor of WisconsinAge: 65Family: Married, three childrenFun fact: His father ran a gas station and country store in Elroy, Wis.