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The 2020 presidential race is happening — now, today, before 2018 is even over. On Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, became the first major candidate to enter the contest, announcing that she was forming an exploratory committee.

In modern politics, forming the committee, which facilitates early fund-raising, is seen as an all-but-official announcement that a person is running for the presidency. Julián Castro, the former federal housing secretary and San Antonio mayor, also formed one this month. Several other candidates are expected to join the race in the coming weeks. (A congressman from Maryland, John Delaney, has been running since 2017. Read more about him here.)

And President Trump, never one to shy away from political combat, has also gotten an early jump on the 2020 race, naming a campaign manager last February and flouting precedent by raising money for his re-election during the midterm campaign.

With the election more than 670 days away, this can all feel a little ridiculous. But that does not make it unusual. A glance at recent history suggests that the candidates are roughly on schedule.

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It was not always this way. In 1960, John F. Kennedy did not announce his candidacy until 11 months before Election Day. As recently as the 1992 election, Bill Clinton did not formally enter the presidential contest until just over a year before the general election. But since then, campaigns have grown longer, bloating into nearly two-year affairs.

Here is a look back at some candidates who jumped in early, how they did it and whether it did them much good:

Hillary Clinton: April 2015. Donald Trump: June 2015

By this time four years ago, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Republican of Florida, had made an early move in the 2016 presidential race. In mid-December 2014, he said he would “actively explore” a presidential run, announced plans to create a political action committee and spent time calling donors. (Mr. Bush, of course, did not win in the end.)

But it was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the eventual runner-up to Mr. Trump in the Republican primary, who was the first major candidate to formally announce a presidential bid, in March 2015. The future Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, declared “I’m running for president” soon after, in April 2015.

In the end, all of them lost to Mr. Trump, who did not announce his candidacy from the atrium of Trump Tower in Manhattan until June 2015.

[Here’s how presidential campaigns became two-year marathons.]

Mitt Romney: April 2011. Barack Obama: Incumbent

The 2012 election got off to a slow start, although it was widely expected that Mitt Romney, who had run in 2008, would again seek the Republican nomination. But few of the Republicans lining up to run against President Barack Obama were willing to formally claim an early stake in the race.

John McCain: November 2006. Barack Obama: January 2007

If you think there wasn’t enough room between the midterm election and the start of presidential campaigns this year, look no further than the 2008 election cycle.

For the first time in more than half a century, the presidential race did not include an incumbent — either the president or the vice president — on the ballot. And the campaigning started so early that it bumped up against the midterms.

Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who was the governor of Iowa, announced his intention to run for president the week of the 2006 midterms and made it official by the end of November. John McCain, the senator from Arizona who would go on to capture the Republican nomination, formed his presidential exploratory committee that same month.

By January 2007, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton launched their exploratory committees, the field was already crowded with candidates. It was a breathtakingly fast start to a presidential race that would propel Mr. Obama to the White House.

[Read more about how an early rush of entries shaped the 2008 election.]

John Kerry: December 2002. President Bush: Incumbent

Going into the 2004 election, George W. Bush was the incumbent president, but that did not dissuade prospective Democrats from campaigning.

John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts, established himself as an early contender: In early December 2002, he went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to declare that he was creating an exploratory committee. By January, a flood of other candidates had entered the race.

Initially, Mr. Kerry’s early move paid off: He bested the other Democratic candidates to become the party’s nominee for president. But he, too, lost to the incumbent president as Mr. Bush secured a second term.

Al Gore: January 1999. George W. Bush: March 1999

The unforgettable 2000 presidential race that ended with a recount in Florida began with the long-shot candidacy of a liberal senator from Minnesota.

The senator, Paul Wellstone, announced an exploratory committee as early as April 1998, more than two years before the election. In a solicitation letter to Democrats during his short-lived campaign, he wrote, “Nov. 7, 2000, probably seems a long time away to you. (It does to me!)”

Al Gore, then the vice president of the United States, was the favorite for the Democratic nomination and announced his first formal step toward running for president on Jan. 1, 1999. The future President Bush announced his exploratory committee two months later, in March 1999.

But there was another notable candidate that election cycle: Donald J. Trump. Encouraged by “amazing” polls, “unbelievable” news media interest and a “huge” ground swell of public support, he announced an exploratory committee to run for president in October 1999. He suggested that Oprah Winfrey would be his vice president.

That campaign didn’t take off. But we know how this story goes. Mr. Trump made it to the White House, where he has uprooted American politics — and opened the door to the wide field of candidates who will fight to challenge him in 2020. It starts now.


Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

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