WASHINGTON -- In just three months, the gates will open on the 2016 race for the presidency that could well be the most important election in modern U.S. history.
Rarely have so many of the candidates, including the front-runners, drawn so much bitter controversy about their records.
Rarely have the two major parties faced so many thorny political obstacles that threaten their chances of choosing their strongest contender.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, once the odds-on Democratic presidential nominee, is up to her neck in an email scandal that is being investigated by Congress, the FBI and an army of other agencies.
Not only has she given conflicting stories about how she handled government material on a once-secret email system in her home, it now appears she has compromised classified information, according to investigators.
Her contradictory accounts have raised widespread public doubts about her honesty and has sent her election poll numbers into the basement.
A new poll this week by Bloomberg news service put Clinton's support at 33 percent, while Vice President Joe Biden drew 25 percent, even though he hasn't thrown his hat in the ring.
A quarter of the Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters say they support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist.
"Not only did Biden appear to be gaining on Clinton, but he also enjoyed a 10 percent higher favorability rating, compared to Clinton" -- 80 percent to 70 percent -- the Bloomberg poll said.
Republicans also appear to be in political disarray on whether they will be able to whittle down their lengthy list of candidates anytime soon.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker have dropped out of the race, and as many as half of the remaining candidates may drop out by the end of the year.
But that will leave a still deeply divided party by the time the campaigns roll into 2016 and the GOP's polls begin to tighten.
Bombastic billionaire Donald Trump remains the GOP's front-runner, but his support has fallen substantially to 25 percent, according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll.
Behind him are neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 17 percent; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, 12 percent; former Florida governor Jeb Bush, 10 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 9 percent. Everyone else is in low single digits.
The big question about Trump is whether he can build stronger political support with a mean, vindictive campaign of personal insults that have become his trademark.
It is apparent that his personal attacks on Fiorina's face, and the zingers she shot back, hurt him badly, sending his polls into a nose dive, and for a while lifted her into second place.
But he seems to enjoy it, and I wouldn't be surprised if his next book isn't titled "The Art of the Insult." At a speech in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday, Trump ecstatically attacked Hillary, calling her "shrill."
"Hillary, who is very shrill -- do you know the word 'shrill'?" he said to the crowd. "She can be kind of sha-riiiil," he said.
He went on to downgrade Caroline Kennedy, saying she was unsuited to be our ambassador to Japan. He described an unnamed woman as "vicious, vicious." Then he returned to attack Fiorina yet again, calling her "a disaster."
The economy? Unemployment? Jobs? Incomes? The budget deficit and the national debt? Taxes? Terrorism? These and other issues are given short shift, if they are mentioned at all.
"Trump's favorability ratings have held steady at 36 percent favorable, but he remains more disliked than liked," the Quinnipiac poll found.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that his approval polls have fallen among women.
Meantime, two other factors are going to affect how the 2016 presidential election turns out.
One of them is Barack Obama, who hasn't exactly been a spectacularly successful president, to say the least.
Start with the 2008 recession. The average recession in the past three to four decades has lasted two years, but not under Obama. His recession has been the longest since the Great Depression, which didn't end until we entered World War II.
Compare Obama's mediocre economic record to the one President Reagan inherited in 1981 and what he did to put Americans back to work.
Borrowing a page out of President John F. Kennedy's economic growth book, Reagan cut taxes across the board, and two years later economic growth soared.
By 1983, two years after the tax cuts took effect, the quarterly economic growth rate was hitting 3.2 percent, 5.6 percent and 7.7 percent. Nearing the end of Reagan's first term, economic growth rates were 8.5 percent, 7.9, 6.9 and 5.8.
As Obama was nearing the end of his first term, his economy was stuck in mediocre quarterly growth rates between 2 percent and 1.5 percent.
As the Obama economy approaches its eighth year, it's still stalled around 2 percent growth, with anemic job growth mostly in low-paying sectors, and still being held up by the Federal Reserve's nearly zero interest rate crutches.
Obama will retire from office in January 2017, leaving behind the largest debt in U.S. history. That's the dismal record the Democratic presidential nominee will have to run on next year -- and the record the GOP nominee will run against.
Choose carefully, Republicans. We can't win this one on boasting, ego and insults.