Believe it or not, American voters aren't going to elect a president anytime soon.
In fact, Americans won't choose the next White House occupant until Nov. 8, 2016, exactly one year from now. The first presidential nominating contest of the cycle will be the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.
Still, that hasn't stopped anyone from focusing on weekly polls and candidate gaffes -- all of which may mean nothing in a year. Here are a few of the stories, big and small, that have shaped the presidential cycle so far.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has had to answer questions about her exclusive use of a private email account while she was secretary of state. The New York Times first reported on it in March, and Clinton initially downplayed the issue, saying she simply used a personal account out of convenience, followed regulations and had turned over all of her work-related emails to the State Department. After launching her campaign, she continued to dismiss the controversy, saying her email use didn't matter to voters and even joking about the controversy.
At the beginning of September, Clinton finally apologized for her private email use. The FBI is investigating whether sensitive material was improperly stored on Clinton's private server, and the State Department is slowly making Clinton's messages public.
Even though the issue has dragged on, it has sometimes played to Clinton's advantage. The former secretary of state gave an impressive performance last month when she testified for 11 hours before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which initially discovered her personal email use. There was also loud applause during last month's Democratic debate when her Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said Americans were "sick and tired of hearing about [Clinton's] damn emails." Sanders has since said, however, that the investigation into Clinton's emails should continue.
When the self-described democratic socialist launched his campaign, he was considered a long shot. But to the surprise of many, including Sanders himself, he has surged in crucial early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, has had impressive grassroots fundraising, and is seen as Clinton's biggest rival for the Democratic nomination, though the senator still trails Clinton nationally.
Carson Can't Help Himself
The former neurosurgeon has surged in the polls lately, but the veracity of his inspiring life story has come under fire.
Politico reported Friday that Carson had never applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, even though he wrote in his memoir, Gifted Hands, that he was offered a full scholarship to the school. The candidate later told The New York Times that he received an informal offer to get into West Point, which covers the cost of tuition for its students, but did not pursue it.
Carson also reversed course on an incident in the book that describes him as trying to stab another child, after CNN and other media outlets questioned it. He now says it was a relative, not a close friend, whom he tried to stab.
Carson insulted several different groups of people in the course of his campaign. After Houston voters did not support an anti-discrimination ballot measure amid fears that it would allow predatory men in women's bathrooms, Carson said that it "wasn't fair" for transgender people "to make everyone else uncomfortable."
In September, Carson said he could not support a Muslim president because the religion is at odds with the U.S. Constitution.
The candidate also said he would have done more to fight off the shooter during a deadly rampage at Oregon's Umpqua Community College.
"I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," he said. "I would say, 'Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.'"
But Carson wasn't done yet. He also suggested the Holocaust could have been prevented if Jews had guns.
From the moment Donald Trump launched his GOP campaign and insulted Mexicans immigrating to the United States, the billionaire has been the center of attention.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best ... They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems," he said during his presidential announcement. "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
But that was just the beginning for Trump. In July, he criticized Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was a Vietnam War prisoner, saying, "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."
But the comment, condemned by many Republicans, didn't seem to harm Trump's status as the GOP front-runner. Neither did comments he made after the first Republican debate in August, when he accused Fox News host Megyn Kelly of treating him unfairly in the debate.
"You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her -- wherever," he told CNN after the debate. His campaign later dismissed the suggestion that Trump was referring to menstruation.
During the first debate, Trump also refused to promise that he would support the eventual Republican nominee, setting off some speculation that he would consider an independent bid. Trump later put an end to the speculation and signed a Republican National Committee pledge to support the eventual nominee.
He has also consistently lobbed insults at his GOP rivals, calling former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush "low energy" and implying Sen. Rand Paul was ugly. He also insulted former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!"
Black Lives Matter Visibility
The Black Lives Matter group has been visible on the campaign trail, interrupting events by Democratic presidential hopefuls Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. In July, Sanders and O'Malley were both interrupted by protesters at an event (Clinton did not attend), and O'Malley was booed for saying that "all lives matter" -- a comment he said immediately afterward was not meant to offend anyone.
Sanders was also interrupted during an August event and released a statement afterward saying he was "disappointed" by the disruption. Sanders has since moved to improve his relationship with the group, releasing a criminal justice reform platform and meeting with activists privately. Clinton and O'Malley have met with Black Lives Matter activists, who have also requested meetings with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Carson.
Bush Can't Decide His Position On Iraq
Before he officially announced he was running for president, the former Florida governor told Fox News' Megyn Kelly, for some reason, that even with the benefit of hindsight, he still would have invaded Iraq. Bush was quickly criticized by conservatives for the comment, and let a week pass before saying that, had he known what we know now, he would not have invaded the country.
The 14th Amendment
Over the summer, the Republican field of presidential candidates grew interested in repealing the 14th amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil, regardless of whether their parents are citizens. Trump called it "the biggest magnet for illegal immigration" and several other candidates followed suit, saying the issue needed to be re-examined.
Christie's Plan For Tracking Undocumented Immigrants
The New Jersey governor in August proposed an unusual way to track individuals who have overstayed their visas in the United States.
"So here's what I'm gonna do if I'm president. I'm gonna ask Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, come work for the governor for three months. Just come for three months to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and show these people," Chris Christie said.
"We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in," he continued. "And then when your time is up ... then we go get you. Tap you on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, thanks for coming, time to go.'"
Christie later clarified his comments, saying it was ridiculous to think he was comparing people to packages and specifying that he wants to use fingerprint technology to track immigrants.
Rubio's Attendance Record
Rubio has an awful attendance record in the Senate, something he has defended by arguing that his time is best used doing things other than showing up for votes. That absenteeism has not sat well with some, including the Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board, which wrote that Rubio should resign his Senate seat while he campaigns.
But Rubio has also been able to use the attacks to his advantage. When Bush suggested during an October debate that the senator should resign his seat, Rubio turned the attack against his fellow Floridian.
“Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you," Rubio said.
Biden Weighs Another Presidential Run
Over the summer, the vice president was considering whether to run for president again. The speculation increased after it was rumored that Joe Biden's late son Beau had asked his dad to run for president on his deathbed and after the vice president made public comments that seemed to be attacking Clinton.
But Biden ultimately decided not to run, saying in October that the window for him had closed.
Bashing The Media
The Republican presidential candidates claimed they weren't being treated fairly during an October debate, even though some of the questions were perfectly substantive. The candidates were so upset that they met and compiled a list of demands to send the Republican National Committee for future debates, though some candidates eventually refused to sign the letter. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus also suspended the committee's partnership with NBC News, which was slated to host another debate in February.
Some Candidates Haven't Made It
The most surprising early exit from the presidential race was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), once considered to be a favorite for the GOP nomination. Walker dropped out of the race on Sept. 21 amid dismal poll numbers. When he announced that he was suspending his campaign, Walker called on more candidates in the GOP field to drop out so the party could unite against Trump. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) also dropped out of the race.
On the Democratic side, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig have dropped out.
Also on HuffPost: