The current US race for the White House is different from earlier races in many respects. Even a basic difference such as implementing a new political calendar impacts the race.
Nevada's caucus is now scheduled just after the Iowa caucus and ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Many other states are planning to move forward their primaries.
As of mid-March, eight states, including California and New Jersey, have moved their primary elections to next Feb. 5.
Fourteen other states, including Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, are proposing to move their primaries to the same date. So some 50 percent of the delegates could be chosen by Feb. 5, narrowing the field down to a few strong candidates.
There are large numbers of declared or presumed candidates in both parties. Their main efforts now are fund raising and assembling a competent campaign staff. Because of the large amount of money required to run a serious campaign, some fringe candidates are expected to withdraw early. Others may stumble by saying the wrong thing or failing to ignite support among voters.
According to an average of seven national polls in February of likely Republican voters, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani led with 40 percent, followed by 22 percent for Senator John McCain, 11 percent for former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and 7 percent for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
McCain is nevertheless regarded as the front-runner by virtue of his campaign team, fund-raising resources and experience in the US Congress and military. However, his strong support for the Iraq War is a sharp departure from voter sentiment. At 70, his age could also be a negative factor.
There are also a few other Republican hopefuls.
There are also many contenders on the Democratic side. New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, has a substantial lead over her Democrat rivals. According to a recent survey conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, 36 percent of Democrats support Clinton, 24 percent back Illinois Senator Barack Obama, 14 percent support the party's 2000 nominee, former vice president Al Gore, and 12 percent endorse John Edwards, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2004.
Clinton's advantages include name recognition, fund-raising prowess and a reputation for sharp intelligence. Possible liabilities are the perception that she is polarizing, may not be electable partly because of "Clinton fatigue," perceived relatively poor oratory skills, and consistent support of the Iraq War -- although she has been adjusting her stance on how and when US forces may be withdrawn from Iraq.
Obama is an attractive fresh face. He is articulate and comes across as someone genuinely committed to doing good for the country. He is an excellent speaker and author of two best-selling books who could draw considerable Black-American support away from the Clinton camp. He also objected to the Iraq War when it was politically risky to do so. The concern is his lack of experience. He has been in the US Senate for only two years.
Edwards has cultivated good relations with workers unions across the country. He is deeply committed to eliminating poverty and has traveled extensively overseas since 2004 to broaden his horizons. He is talented and is already developing policy proposals such as a comprehensive healthcare coverage plan. He could be a viable contender, depending on the progress of the Iraq War, the state of the economy and other unforeseen developments. On March 22, Edwards announced in a press conference that his wife Elizabeth's cancer had returned, but the campaign would continue.