The Federal Election Commission (FEC), created by Congress to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) - the statute that governs the financing of federal elections, defines the process of registering a candidacy for President in the following manner:
"If you are running for the U.S. House, Senate or the Presidency, you must register with the FEC once you (or persons acting on your behalf) receive contributions or make expenditures in excess of $5,000. Within 15 days of reaching that $5,000 threshold, you must file a Statement of Candidacy authorizing a principal campaign committee to raise and spend funds on your behalf. Within 10 days of that filing, your principal campaign committee must submit a Statement of Organization. Your campaign will thereafter report its receipts and disbursements on a regular basis."
Presidential campaigns today are grueling marathons that take candidates by air from New York to Chicago to San Francisco and back again in a single day. On the campaign trail they typically make speeches, kiss babies, shake hands, pose for photographs, and find other ways to connect with the 'average' American. Candidates must raise millions of dollars from the party faithful and corporate leaders, ride buses through the hinterland, and rub shoulders with farmers, factory workers, veterans, and soccer moms. They must paint pictures of a better America, make passionate appeals to reason, and stake a claim for moral leadership. Not for the faint of heart, the modern presidential campaign tests the mettle of those who would live in the White House.
A Presidential campaign is lengthy and demanding, and there can be only one winner. Nevertheless, recent nominating campaigns, except those in which an incumbent president is seeking reelection, have attracted a half-dozen or more contenders. They begin planning their campaigns almost as soon as the last presidential election is over and hit the campaign trail six to twelve months in advance of the first primaries and caucuses.
In the early twentieth century there was a movement to give more power to citizens in the selection of candidates for the party's nomination. The primary election developed from this reform movement. In a primary election, registered voters may participate in choosing the candidate for the party's nomination by voting through secret ballot, as in a general election.
There are two main types of primaries, closed or open, that determine who is eligible to vote in the primary. In a closed primary a registered voter may vote only in the election for the party with which that voter is affiliated. For example a voter registered as Democratic can vote only in the Democratic primary and a Republican can vote only in the Republican primary. In an open primary, on the other hand, a registered voter can vote in either primary regardless of party membership. The voter cannot, however, participate in more than one primary. A third less common type of primary, the blanket primary, allows registered voters to participate in all primaries.
Caucuses were the original method for selecting candidates but have decreased in number since the primary was introduced in the early 1900's. In states that hold caucuses a political party announces the date, time, and location of the meeting. Generally any voter registered with the party may attend. At the caucus, delegates are chosen to represent the state's interests at the national party convention. Prospective delegates are identified as favorable to a specific candidate or uncommitted. After discussion and debate an informal vote is taken to determine which delegates should be chosen.
In some states a combination of the primary and caucus systems are used. The primary serves as a measure of public opinion but is not necessarily binding in choosing delegates. Sometimes the Party does not recognize open primaries because members of other parties are permitted to vote.
A key part of the American political process has included party conventions held every four years to determine the major parties Presidential candidates. The first party to introduce nominating conventions was the Anti-Masons. Delegates from 13 states met in Baltimore Maryland on September 26, 1831 were they selected Attorney General William Wirt of Maryland to be there candidate. The Democrats followed in 1832 re-nominated President Jackson. Since that time many of the conventions have been places of great drama, where it has taken multiple votes to elect a parties Presidential candidate. In recent years with the current system of primaries in which most of the convention votes are decided the drama of the conventions has been lost as the outcomes have been predetermined. Instead the conventions have been used as a tool by the parties to market their candidates and unveil their parties platform. In recent years the only true disagreements at the conventions have been negotiations over party platform.