When the Race for President Begins

Hint: The Campaign Almost Never Stops

Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Debate
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Presidential elections are held every four years, but campaigning for the most powerful position in the free world never really ends. Politicians who aspire to the White House begin building alliances, seeking endorsements and raising money years before they announce their intentions.

The never-ending campaign is a modern phenomenon. The all-important role money now plays in influencing elections has forced members of Congress and even the president to begin tapping donors and holding fundraisers even before they're sworn into office.

"Once upon a time not terribly long ago, federal politicians more or less kept their campaigning to election years. They reserved their energies in odd-numbered, non-election years for legislating and governing. No longer," writes The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative reporting organization in Washington, D.C.

While much of the work of running for president happens behind the scenes, there is a moment when every candidate must step forward in a public setting and make an official declaration that they are seeking the presidency. This is when the race for president begins in earnest.

So when does that happen? 

The Presidential Race Begins the Year Before the Election

In the four most recent presidential races in which there was no incumbent, the nominees launched their campaigns an average of 531 days before the election took place. That's about one year and seven months before the presidential election. That means presidential campaigns typically begin in the spring of the year before the presidential election. Presidential candidates select running mates much later in the campaign.

Here's a look at how early the race for president has begun in modern history.

2016 Presidential Campaign

The 2016 presidential election was held on Nov. 8, 2016. There was no incumbent because President Barack Obama was finishing his second and final term

The eventual Republican nominee and president, reality-television star and billionaire real-estate developer Donald Trump, announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015 — 513 days or one year and nearly five months before the election.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator who served as secretary of the Department of State under Obama, announced her presidential campaign on April 12, 2015 — 577 days or one year and seven months before the election.

2008 Presidential Campaign

The 2008 presidential election was held on Nov. 4, 2008. There was no incumbent because President George W. Bush was serving his second and final term.

Democrat Obama, the eventual victor, announced he was seeking his party's nomination for the presidency on Feb. 10, 2007 — 633 days or one year, 8 months and 25 days before the election.

Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain announced his intentions to seek his party's presidential nomination on April 25 of 2007 — 559 days or one year, six months and 10 days before the election.

2000 Presidential Campaign

The 2000 presidential election was held on Nov. 7, 2000. There was no incumbent because President Bill Clinton was serving his second and final term.

Republican George W. Bush, the eventual winner, announced he was seeking his party's presidential nomination on June 12, 1999 —514 days or one year, four months and 26 days before the election.

Democrat Al Gore, the vice president, announced he was seeking the party's nomination for presidency on June 16, 1999 — 501 days or one year, four months and 22 days before the election.

1988 Presidential Campaign

The 1988 presidential election was held on Nov. 8, 1988. There was no incumbent because President Ronald Reagan was serving his second and final term.

Republican George H.W. Bush, who was vice president at the time, announced he was seeking the party's presidential nomination on Oct. 13, 1987 — 392 days or one year and 26 days before the election.

Democrat Michael Dukakis announced he was seeking his party's presidential nomination on April 29, 1987 — 559 days or one year, six months and 10 days before the election.