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The First 2020 Candidate Is … Hold On, I Had The Name Right Here … John Delaney

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland has declared that he is running for president. You heard that correctly: A serious elected official has declared his candidacy just six months into President Trump’s term. Trump still has another 3.5 years to serve.

I don’t know whether Delaney has any shot at winning the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency. But I think I speak for most of us when I say this whole thing is a little nuts.

In the past 45 years, there’s no record of any serious candidates announcing that they’re running for president this early. In the 2016 cycle, Ted Cruz was the first to declare among Democrats and Republicans. He did so on March 23, 2015 — that was 315 days before the Iowa caucuses. Going back to 1972, no candidates committed to running earlier than Republican Pete du Pont in the 1988 cycle. He filed with the Federal Election Commission and announced his candidacy to supporters 615 days before the Iowa caucuses.

Delaney is way ahead of those fellas. We don’t even know the date of the 2020 Iowa caucuses yet! Given prior dates, they’re likely about 900 days away. The lines between toying with a presidential run, keeping options open, genuinely exploring a bid and declaring a candidacy are blurry, but the closest comparable case to Delaney’s that comes to mind is that of former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who started to explore (but did not announce) a run for the 1984 election in the second half of 1981.

Of course, Delaney likely jumped the starting gun in an effort to get press attention. (Yes, we’ve played right into his hands.) Delaney, who is a former banking CEO and was elected to the House in 2012, needs the press because he’s essentially an unknown figure in national politics. [Editor’s note: I had no clue who he was.] There doesn’t seem to be a single poll conducted so far in this very young presidential cycle that has included Delaney’s name — either for the primary or general election. Pollsters have, however, asked about Oprah Winfrey and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. In other words, Delaney’s announcement feels out of left field.

The question for now is whether Delaney’s declaration is the first of many early announcements. There’s reason to believe it could be, even if others don’t come quite so soon. Trump’s shocking win in 2016 may make many people who previously thought they had no chance of winning the presidency believe that they do. Indeed, I’ve had a little fun with Delaney’s announcement because of his obscurity, but … Donald Trump is president of the United States — no one should be counted out. And with Trump’s popularity the lowest on record this early in a presidency, some Democrats may be especially eager to take on someone they view as vulnerable.

Either way, the 2020 presidential campaign is officially underway. Sorry.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.