The presidential election is a year away, even if those of us who aren't making our livings from the long campaign might wish to be done with it.
There are more debates to be held, and primaries, caucuses and party conventions, and then more debates before the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. But the contest has been going on long enough that it's already clear what the fundamental issues will be. This is good news for voters, who can start to home in on the key questions, and candidates, who still have plenty of time to change their positions.
With an emphasis on what matters most to Southern Californians, here are the big issues of the next year:
• Foreign policy: Americans will get behind a clear approach to defense and security. But President Obama's strategy, especially toward the terrorist breeding grounds in the Middle East, has been inconsistent. Candidates must define their philosophies and display their grasp of military and diplomatic challenges.
• Immigration: Donald Trump's hard-line stance on undocumented immigrants propelled him to the top of the Republican polls. Both parties want immigration laws reformed but in very different ways. Deporting 11 million people won't work, but what will?
• Economic opportunity: That's one phrase to describe what people of various political persuasions think is lacking in today's economy. Whose plan for overdue tax reform would restore the ability of poor people to move up, without stifling business? If a candidate's plan sounds too simple to be practical, it probably is.
• Education: Promoting opportunity includes making college affordable. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have proposals to ease student-loan burdens — but they'd cost taxpayers plenty.
• Climate change: GOP candidates are split on whether global warming exists and human activity is contributing to it. But they agree that U.S. action isn't the answer. This is an issue too big to dodge.
• Culture wars: This covers a lot of issues, including guns, gay marriage and religious liberties. The next president must be the leader of all Americans of all backgrounds and traditions instead of encouraging divisions.
• Identity issues: Obama's election did not signal a post-racial era. Electing a woman (Clinton or Carly Fiorina) or Latino (Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz) wouldn't remove America's issues of discrimination either. More than denial is needed.
• One issue has not been as prominent as might have been expected, the matter of privacy and civil liberties in an era of Internet surveillance. The issue's main mouthpiece, Sen. Rand Paul, languishes in the polls. It may resurface.
Every election is described as pivotal. This one is no less so and maybe more so than most.
If a Democrat wins, it means the continuation of many Obama administration policies that have fueled successful Republican pushback in many midterm elections. If a Republican wins, and can work with a Republican-controlled Congress, he or she will boldly begin to yank the pendulum back to the right.
The campaign headlines so far have been about personalities. The question of what kind of leader would make Washington, D.C., function better is important.
But what matters most is how the candidates differ on the big issues. They have a year to sort it out.