The road to victory is a three-round fight involving a dual campaign to get nominated and elected, each involving a complex strategy.
It could take two years between a candidate's announcement that he or she is running and the actual convention.
You can add on an additional three to four months to the campaign for president.
The "invisible primary," the period between a candidate's announcement that he or she is running for president and the day the first primary votes are cast, will heavily influence the outcome of the primary season.
The current startup fee for presidential races has been estimated at $100 million, and the candidate starts building an organization, actively seeking funds, and developing an overall strategy to win the nomination.
Before the first primary or caucus, the candidate tries to get endorsements from party leaders and visit key states with early primaries such as Iowa and New Hampshire to raise the public's interest.
The political ads are shown in the early primary states.
The invisible primary has created a perceived front runner since 1976, when Jimmy Carter threw his hat in the ring.
During the invisible primary, front-runner status is defined as the candidate who raised the most money.
In 2004, Vermont Governor Howard Dean raised more money than any other Democrat.
The Internet was used to raise a record amount of funds.
Dean's candidacy collapsed after he lost the Iowa caucus.
In the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton led Barack Obama in donations before the Iowa caucus.
Rudy Giuliani was the leader of the Republican field, with John McCain lagging behind.
The race was changed by the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
As the campaign progressed, Obama and McCain raised more money.
The primary season is the second stage of the campaign.
By the time the first caucus in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire are held in January, the campaign for the party's nomination is well underway.
Many candidates will drop out of the race by the time the early primary votes are done.
Prior to 2004, there was a break between the Iowa and New Hampshire votes.
In 2004, the Democrats created a primary calendar where each week different primaries are held.
The campaign is in the third phase.
One candidate usually has enough delegates pledged to him to become the presumptive nominee after Super Tuesday.
The Democratic candidates fought until the last primary was completed.
Between the time that both parties have a presumptive candidate and the time that the candidates are officially nominated, the third stage of the campaign takes place.
John Kerry became the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee in March of 2004, after winning the majority of the Democratic primaries.
In March 2004, the incumbent Republican President George W. Bush began his campaign with a television advertising budget of more than $60 million.
John McCain wrapped up his party's nomination months before Barack Obama.
This gave McCain an opportunity to unify the Republican Party, define his candidacy, and raise funds for the general campaign.
Obama had a difficult time unifying the Democratic Party after becoming the presumptive nominee in June.
Each party holds a nominating convention in the fourth stage of the campaign.
The party out of power usually holds its convention first.
The convention are scripted.
The convention is a pep rally for the party's base.
The adoption of the party platform, the keynote speech, the nominating speeches, and the acceptance speeches of the vice-presidential and presidential candidates are some of the key components of the convention.
Each presidential candidate is expected to get a "convention bounce" in the polls after the convention.
Both parties delayed their convention in 2008 because they didn't want to have a conflict with the Summer Olympics.
The convention were held in a row.
Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Denver was watched by the largest audience ever to watch an acceptance speech.
After John McCain announced his choice for vice president, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Democrat's poll bounce was erased.
Compared to the nominating process, the election campaign seems like a 100 yard dash.
The fall campaign turns into a fight to the finish even though there are similarities to the campaign for nomination.
Richard Nixon decided to be the first candidate to campaign in all 50 states in 1960, and some believe it cost him the election.
George Bush lost valuable time to Bill Clinton when he decided to take the high road as the incumbent and not begin campaigning until he was officially nominated.
The "Rose Garden" strategy was used by President Clinton in 1996 to establish the themes of his campaign.
He used primary campaign funds to air political commercials 16 months before the election, tout his accomplishments.
In the 2000 campaign, Al Gore tried to separate himself from the scandals that President Clinton faced by campaigning for a continuation of the Clinton accomplishments.
The first Jewish candidate for the office of vice president was selected by him.
George W. Bush was a Washington outsider.
was selected as a Washington insider.
Dick Cheney will be Bush's vice presidential running mate.
Bush ran as an incumbent in 2004, while Kerry challenged the sitting president's Iraq policies.
There were a number of firsts in the 2008 campaign.
It was the first time since 1952 that there was no incumbent running for president and the first time the Republican Party nominated a woman for vice president.
Presidential candidates use the media for everything.
From sound bites to photo ops to the use of pollsters, media moguls play a key role.
The candidate knows the makeup of every election district he campaigns in and relies on the media and its tools to market his or her candidacy.
The decision on where to go and who to see is made by media advisors.
A high-tech campaign to convince party regulars that a particular candidate is best suited to run the country is what leads to winning delegate support.
The primary process is the first step on the way to the White House.
Party regulars used to meet in small groups called caucuses.
They would meet the candidate, ask questions, and vote on endorsing the candidacy.
The at-large party membership was locked out of the process because party bosses had a lot of input.
Many more of the party regulars are involved in Iowa, which has a caucus.
Similar to the town meeting, it is one of the most direct forms of democracy.
Iowa has taken the spotlight as the first test of a candidate's strength because it is the first official indication of the candidate's viability.
Jimmy Carter received national attention after winning the Iowa caucus.
In 1988 Bob Dole defeated George H. W. Bush in Iowa, but he couldn't carry that into the New Hampshire primary.
Bob Dole's ability as a campaigner was shown to be weak in 1996 due to the compressed primary schedule.
Even though Dole won the Iowa caucus, his margin of victory was slim, and a strong showing by Pat Buchanan dashed Dole's hope of early campaign momentum.
In New Hampshire and Arizona, victories by Buchanan and Forbes signaled serious flaws in the Dole candidacy.
Dole faced serious challenges from Buchanan, Forbes, and Alexander by the end of the primary season.
The rest of the field was removed.
Dole won the South Carolina primary in March 1996, a little more than a month after the primary season began.
Texas Governor George W. Bush won the Republican nomination for president in 2004.
Although Vermont Governor Howard Dean won the "invisible primary" in 2004, he lost the Iowa Caucus and his candidacy collapsed after his concession speech.
The Iowa Democratic primary victory of Senator John Kerry was used to carry him through the rest of the primaries.
Major challenges for both parties were presented in the 2008 primaries.
Major problems were created by the front-loaded calendar.
The Iowa caucus was held earlier in the year.
Since other states pushed up their primary dates, New Hampshire was forced to have its first in the nation primary five days after Iowa.
State parties were punished by the national parties for violating party rules.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton raised more money than any other presidential candidates in the history of presidential elections, as a result of the primaries.
The media declared Barack Obama the front-runner after he won the Iowa caucus.
As Hillary Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire, the label was short lived.
Clinton won more delegates than Obama on Super Tuesday, but Obama won more states.
The turning point for the Democratic candidates came after Super Tuesday, when Obama won a series of primaries and caucuses that left Hillary Clinton scrambling for superdelegates.
For the first time since the modern primary system began, neither candidate could claim a majority until the superdelegates declared who they supported.
There was no real front-runner for the Republicans.
John McCain won the New Hampshire primary after losing the Iowa caucus.
He claimed victory after gaining a majority of delegates.
The 2012 primary calendar was approved by both national committees.
In February, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will hold caucuses.
There will be elections on Super Tuesdays in March and April.
The Republican Party no longer has "winner-take-all" contests to make sure the race remains competitive.
If a state moves up its primary, it will lose half of its convention delegates.
The presidential primary has become the most important way for a candidate to get delegates.
New York and California have changed their primary dates in order to make their primaries more important.
Thirty states have presidential primaries today.
caucuses or party conventions are used by the others.
Presidential primaries can either be binding or nonbinding.
They can ask the voter if they want to support a candidate at the convention.
The percentage of the vote the candidate received in the election is what determines proportional representation.
In the actual election, the candidate receiving a plurality gets all the delegates.
In California, the Republicans use this method.
The use of this system has been banned by Democratic rules.
Voters can choose delegates who are not bound to vote for the winning candidate in a preferential primary.
Cross-over voters from other political parties can express a preference in a primary vote, but they don't actually vote for delegates.
A dual primary vote where presidential candidates are selected and a separate slate of delegates is also voted on.
This type of primary is used in New Hampshire.
Over the years, the primary strategy has changed.
For a long time, a candidate had to win New Hampshire to get the nomination.
Lyndon Johnson decided not to run after Eugene McCarthy received close to 40 percent of the vote.
Bill Clinton was second to Paul Tsongas.
The media picked up on Clinton's description of himself as the comeback kid, making it seem like he was the real winner.
The strategy used by candidates in primaries is to win as many as possible in order to gain traction.
Al Gore was hoping to win on Super Tuesday in 1988.
By the time the Southern states held their primaries, his victories were limited and his candidacy was hurt, because he did not campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The turning point of Dole's campaign was his Southern strategy.
Dole's nomination was ensured because he mounted an offensive against Pat Buchanan and Lamar Alexander, which ended their campaigns.
Candidate debates are a feature of the primary season.
The debates draw attention to themselves rather than the issues.
The media's coverage and analysis of the results of these elections plays an important role in the process.
Presidential nominations give the candidate and the party national exposure.