Off to the Races!

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Evan Vucci / AP

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., during the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington, July 19, 2006.

We're only a couple of months into the 2008 election cycle and already some things have the weight of cliche — the "Mormon question" about Mitt Romney, John McCain's precarious relationship with the Republican base, Hillary's and Obama's coyness about whether they're running, Joe Biden's complete lack of it. Viewed from almost any distance outside the Beltway, the current contest for each party's nomination seems less like a horse race than an awkward cocktail party, full of subtle maneuvers for better placement, coded messages of disapproval, blatant pandering, and a few uninvited guests.

Last week Rudy Giuliani, the candidate of national security and safety, lost his campaign playbook, somehow allowing 140 pages of fundraising schedules, speeches and analysis of weaknesses to fall into the hands of the New York Daily News. Barack Obama won what might be called "the People primary," appearing in his swimsuit in the celebrity magazine next to such political players as Jessica Alba and Hugh Jackman. Name another '08 contender whose pecs compare favorably to Wolverine's — or another candidate who could inspire such a comparison. Some leaked excerpts from Terry McAuliffe's upcoming memoir (out officially Jan. 23) pimped Hillary and pounded a few more nails into the Kerry coffin. The installation of the Democrats as leaders of the House and Senate could mean that the G.O.P. will get a chance to run as outsiders again. Also, there's the paradigm-shifting announcement that Joe Biden is indeed running for President.

And while all these news items could affect the outcome of the primaries, not all presidential punditry has to be such an inexact science. Beyond ambiguous flirtations with the press, many candidates have taken concrete steps in their campaigns that can be measured and compared. TIME has selected a few meaningful metrics that we hope will add some new dimensions to sizing up a candidate's chances. It means a lot to be number one in the polls (Clinton and Obama are tied), but it means almost as much to be number one in fundraising (Kerry edges out Clinton by a few million). Got a top-ten selling book? (Obama.) What about double-digit visits to Iowa since 2004? (Edwards.) It all matters. We will track all these numbers, and maybe a few more, on a regular basis, in what we're calling "The Racing Form." Nothing takes the place of astute, well-informed analysis, of course, but there's something to be said for just knowing the numbers.