Candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties could wrap up the presidential nomination on Feb. 5, 2008 — more than half a year before the national conventions and nine months prior to the general election.
Why, you ask? Because that date is shaping up to be a first-of-its-kind national presidential primary.
Nominees from both parties will likely be decided on that day, which will make December and January the most frenzied campaign months in the history of primary contests. While mathematically there could end up being a tie on Feb. 5, the likelihood of that is slim.
In the past, nominations were decided over several months as the campaigns meandered across the country competing in a series of states that began in Iowa in January and ended in June or July. This time, it will all be just about over in only five weeks.
This has led strategists for several major presidential candidates to chart campaign courses as if the nomination for each party will be decided on the equivalent of a first ever national primary on Feb. 5.
Seventeen states with roughly 60 percent of the nation's population — spread from coast to coast — are expected to pick party nominees on Feb. 5, including some of the biggest: California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Michigan.
But one large state thought to be a frontloader has shot down the idea — Pennsylvania will stay in April.
"I've talked to the legislature, and there's no appetite for doing that," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said on "FOX News Sunday."
Rendell said he thinks the process needs a complete overhaul.
"Let Iowa and New Hampshire go first because of tradition, and then have four regional primaries, 12 states each, a month apart so we don't get the front-loading, so we get to know the candidates a little better, so we get — smaller candidate names have a little bit of chance. They don't just get knocked out in the first two primaries.
"I think it makes sense. It's insanity what's out there now. It is not calculated to produce the best candidates for either side, and we've got to change it," Rendell said.
No one day has ever had as many nominating delegates potentially at stake as are likely to be available on that day.
States currently scheduled on Feb. 5 include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah.
States planning to move up to Feb. 5 are Illinois, California, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Kansas.
In multi-candidate races it is possible for a single candidate to effectively clinch the nomination by winning a majority of the delgates in some combination of the largest states such as California, Texas, New York, Florida and Michigan.
The camps for big name Democratic candidates like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, and Republicans like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain are all plotting strategies that could put the nomination out of their rival's reach after Feb. 5.
Each major candidate plans emphasis on early test states like New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada — as a catapult toward Feb. 5.
Clinton and Giuliani are particularly focused on how to manage the frontloading of a national primary to their best advantage should they lose an early test state or two.
Simultaneous ads in multiple states, intense travel, debates, forums, fundraising and media appearances will cast the candidates to the four corners and cost millions of dollars a week.
Several states mentioned above have yet to move their dates, but with support from governors and state legislatures they are all expected to vote Feb. 5.
There is a complex and unresolved story about jockeying for position among the first in the nation primary states. The Democratic National Committee calendar you've read about in the papers is very much in jeopardy. New Hampshire and Louisiana could move up to the first week of January. New Hampshire's date will be announced in October and lead to finalization of the first three or four races
But this has little to do with the Feb. 5 crescendo. The start is a bit up in the air, but the big finish is all but certain for both the Republicans and Democrats.