It has only happened twice in the last century in the race for president of the United States. There are no sitting or past presidents or vice presidents running for either of the two major political party nominations. 2007 was the first time a woman and an African American emerged as frontrunners for either major political party. And for the first time, candidates began campaigning in earnest nearly a full year before anybody would vote in the nomination contests.VOA's Jim Fry reviews the major trends in the race in the past year.
In a year of firsts, a candidate declares on the Internet: "I announce today that I am forming a presidential exploratory committee," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate.
Senator Clinton leads most polls of Democratic Party voters as the first woman that experts say could win the presidency. And there is the first African American considered electable.
Senator Barak Obama, also is a Democrat. While campaigning he remarked, "Let's be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we did here."
New Mexico's Democratic governor, Bill Richardson, is seeking to become the first American president of Hispanic descent, but he spent the year far behind the leaders.
The campaigns for U.S. president picked up their pace nearly a full year before voting in the first primary election.
Among Republicans, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hopes to capitalize on his home state's proximity to New Hampshire -- the first state to hold a primary election.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, as the early frontrunner, announced his intentions in April at the Portsmouth, Massachusetts naval shipyard.
By July, McCain plummeted in the polls, his campaign nearly out of money and key staff members jumping ship. The candidate blamed himself. He says, "You take responsibility when you're in charge."
McCain admits his support for the Iraq war and for legalizing some immigrants hurt his chances. Border security and illegal immigration is the top issue among Republicans.
Rudy Giuliani was the New York mayor the day terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001. He touts a tough line and took an early lead in national polls. "The most important thing to do is to make certain we remain on offense against Islamic terrorism," said Giuliani.
The Iraq war was the Democrats' biggest issue early in the year.
Sen. Clinton says she regrets voting for it. "Knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it."
In March, one of the leading Democrats, former Senator John Edwards and his wife announced they will continue campaigning despite the recurrence of Elizabeth Edwards' cancer. "We will be in this every step of the way, together," he said.
In September, an actor and former senator, Fred Thompson, jumped into the Republican contest but failed to take the lead in any polls.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, one of the long shots, shot to the top among Republicans in Iowa.
The Baptist minister aims his appeal at an important segment of the Republican electorate --- religious conservatives.
Huckabee preached at a Texas church and collected an endorsement from a like-minded minister. "He is one of us. He is not one who has come from outside to us."
Romney, once the frontrunner in Iowa, in a December speech defended his Mormon religion, in the face of polls showing a quarter of Americans would not vote for a Mormon.
"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church or any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions," Romney said.
The unsettled field of Republican and Democratic presidential candidates will be tested first in the Iowa caucuses January 3, and the following week in the New Hampshire primary election.