US presidential elections are not for the faint-hearted.
They are now effectively two years long and burn through ridiculous amounts of money.
And it's still six months before any voting occurs in the Democratic primary.
On the Republican side, President Donald Trump is expected to cruise to the party's nomination.
Still, this month will see some action that will push the race forward.
Trump will officially kick off his re-election campaign next week.
The first Democratic debates will be held at the end of the month and will hopefully slice the party's field down from an unwieldy 23 candidates. Only a handful are thought to have a serious chance.
Apart from the nationally known names — former Vice-President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren — most of the Democratic candidates are unknown quantities to voters. The debates will give lesser lights a chance to shine.
According to early polling, other candidates in the hunt include Senator Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Cory Booker, former congressman Beto O'Rourke, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Dark horses who could make ground include Governor Jay Inslee, businessman Andrew Yang, and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.
So what chance does Trump have of being re-elected?
There's a long way to go but plenty of people already believe it will happen.
A CNN poll last week showed 54 per cent of respondents thought he would win, compared to 41 per cent who thought he wouldn't.
This belief stems from four general factors: It's what their gut tells them; Trump is the incumbent; he has political skills that suit; the US economy is still doing well.
Trump's presentation of himself as the biggest, loudest bloke around feeds that instinct. It's amplified by the compliance he gets from his party and devotion from his core believers.
But there are many possible factors to consider. Trump's opponent isn't known. The economy could dip into recession. A war or terror attack could have an impact. Who knows what issues could surface from the past to drag a candidate down.
We also don't have enough information about where the electorate will be at in 2020.
In 17 months will voters be sick of the intense drama of the 24-hour Trump Show? Between 2016 and 2018 the electorate changed enough for the Democrats to take back the House of Representatives, with the help of moderate Republicans in suburban areas.
Polls and forecasts for the 2018 Midterms were highly accurate, which is reassuring as the marathon progresses.
Historically, being the incumbent and running in a good economy are strong pointers to re-election.
In the past it has taken a primary contest and/or independent general election challenge to drag the incumbent down, such as George Bush snr against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992.
No-one who remembers the 2004 race between George W. Bush, who had invaded Iraq the year before, and John Kerry will be underestimating Trump.
But he does have clear vulnerabilities.
He has, for the entirety of his presidency, been consistently unpopular — and presidential approval ratings are a good indicator of voting.
For two and half years his approval ratings have swung in a range between 35 and 45 per cent, according to Gallup. It's the narrowest range of any modern-era president.
And that has been against the background of a good economy Trump inherited from Barack Obama and has been able to maintain.
If the good economy doesn't translate into good presidential approval, does the old 'it's the economy, stupid' truism still hold?
In a Quinnipiac poll last month, 76 per cent of university-educated white voters said the economy was excellent or good. Yet only 36 per cent approved of Trump's performance and 59 per cent said they would vote against him.
One thing that sets Trump aside is his continual reliance on his base.
Normally candidates pander to the base during the primary but try to widen support in the general election. Gallup estimates that Republicans make up 30 per cent of the electorate, independents 38 per cent and Democrats 31 per cent.
Trump famously eked out an Electoral College victory in 2016 with narrow wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Morning Consult last week released polling of key election states which made interesting reading for the Trump campaign. Of course, these are very early numbers.
In Wisconsin, Trump's approval is 42 per cent and disapproval 55 per cent. In Michigan it is 42 per cent and 54 per cent. And in Pennsylvania it is 45 per cent and 52 per cent.
But also Trump is -12 in Iowa; -6 in Arizona; and -4 in Ohio and North Carolina. The deterioration in farm state Iowa is huge — Trump won the state in 2016 by 10 points — and perhaps shows an impact of the tariff war.
If you ask Iowa Democrats who their favorite 2020 candidate is, they'll read your their list of five-ish favorites. This Iowa Poll is our best effort at capturing that "list." We asked 1st choice, 2nd choice and who else they're "actively considering." https://t.co/2l8p6cjqdD pic.twitter.com/CmyU4qAStm— Brianne Pfannenstiel (@brianneDMR) June 9, 2019
The better news for Trump was Florida where he has 48 per cent approval and 48 per cent disapproval. And in Indiana it is 49 per cent approval, 46 per cent disapproval.
To beat Trump the Democratic nominee will need to rebuild the 'Blue Wall' in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Democrats did well in those states in the Midterms.
Trump has already assembled a string of insulting nicknames for Democratic foes. He was fortunate to be against an opponent with high negatives in 2016. A popular, charismatic contender would widen that gap. But do the Democrats have anyone who fits the bill?
How the Democrats try to handle a president who blots out the media sun will be interesting. Buttigieg, in particular, has a calm, unflustered manner when discussing the President which could be effective.
But Trump will try his hardest to define his opponents and drive up their negative ratings.
He will try to turn it into a referendum on the people and party aiming to take his place rather than his own record.
He will be hoping for a tight wrestle so that small margins can count the most in a replay of 2016.
- Nicola Lamb is the foreign editor of the NZ Herald