There are 1,184 days left until voters line up at the polls and pick the 45th president of the United States. The Iowa caucuses, usually held in early January in election years, are nearly 900 days away.
But that didn't stop Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) from visiting the Hawkeye State on Saturday, along with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and reality television star cum birther Donald Trump. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) beat them by a week, while Vice President Joe Biden will make an appearance next month at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) steak fry fundraiser.
"We always get candidates who come out early to dip their toe in the water, but it's nothing like the intensity this time around," Chuck Laudner, an Iowa conservative activist, told The Wall Street Journal. "The conversation about 2016 has already started."
Yes, politicians are already winking towards grassroots activists and the party establishment that they are thinking about running for president.
For Republicans, Cruz came out as the big winner, giving a well-received speech at the Family Leadership Summit.
"The reception for Santorum was appreciative, consistent, and steady," Bob Vander Plaats, organizer of the event, told the Washington Examiner. "The anticipation for and reception of Cruz was over the top."
While Cruz was busy wowing crowds and Santorum was busy not offending them, Donald Trump was occupied with, well, being Donald Trump. He flew into Ames on his private jet, gave a 40-minute speech, spoke with the media, and then promptly returned to New York City.
He didn't announce a 2016 presidential run, but he did happen to mention that he had "built a tremendous company — I've built a net worth that is a fantastic net worth."
That matters, Trump said, because the country has to "create tremendous wealth so we can take care of Social Security and Medicare and all of the things that we can't afford right now."
There are still, of course, many potential Republican candidates who haven't made the trip to Iowa this year, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). They might not be in a rush, Sean Sullivan theorizes in The Washington Post, because Iowa hasn't been much of a springboard for GOP hopefuls:
Not since George W. Bush claimed victory here in 2000 has the first-in-the-nation contest winner gone on to win the GOP nomination in a contested race. And then there's the Ames Straw Poll, a heavily hyped event held months before the caucuses.
The last two winners? Romney in 2007 and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in 2011. Neither went on to win Iowa or the nomination the following year. In fact, of the six Straw Poll winners, only three have gone on to win the caucuses, and only two have won the GOP nomination. So, it’s easy to see why some GOP leaders want to do away with it. [The Washington Post]
That is not true for Democrats, Sullivan notes, pointing out that the Iowa winner went on to win the party's nomination during the last three contested Democratic presidential primaries.
That might explain Biden's decision to attend Harkin's steak fry in September, a key event for any Democratic contender — in fact, President Obama made his Iowa debut there in 2006. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, one of the party's rising stars, will also be speaking.
It will be a prime opportunity for both to grab the media spotlight as other Democratic hopefuls wait to hear from the party's presumed front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, however, may not even have to show up to make an impact in Iowa. Last week, nearly 100 people attended an event held by Democratic women's group EMILY’s List, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), in what was characterized by TIME's Zeke Miller as an unofficial kickoff for the Clinton campaign.
"We have to have millions of people engaged and ready for what will be the pivotal race in America's history," McCaskill said. "And that is about getting everyone excited now for what I hope will be that moment in 2017 when we all get to say 'Madam President' to Hillary Rodham Clinton."