One of the great complaints about American presidential elections is that they are so long.  It’s not a new complaint, as this June, 1960 piece from Time magazine shows. But we don’t complain so much about down ticket races. They usually don’t begin two or even three years before the next election. Virginia’s contest for the Senate seat being vacated by Jim Webb, though, will change that – and test whether Virginians are ready to endure the rigors, and noise, of a marathon campaign.

Consider the race Webb ran in 2006 against George Allen.  Webb first had to decide to become a candidate, which he did in February of 2006. He still had to get past Democratic activists Harris Miller in a June primary, and there was no indication that Webb, who had been a Republican up to then, would have the skills to win. But he did. Meanwhile, George Allen was eyeing a White House run…the Senate thing was just a bump in the road.

But Webb overcame his inexperience on the campaign trail, with a key assist from Allen, and won by a nose in November. The dark horse who had never held elected office toppled the popular incumbent with higher ambitions, a long track record and plenty of money and organization at his disposal in about nine months.

And so here we are, five years later, but still a year and a half away from the next Senate election and already there are five declared Republican candidates in addition to Democratic contender Tim Kaine.  The press releases, campaign events, fundraisers and media appearances are flowing hot and fast on the Republican side. And already, at least one, Jamie Radtke, is running what looks like a negative campaign.

In May, 2011.

In an interview on “The Score,” political expert Bob Holsworth put the permanent campaign in perspective: “We have a Senate race going on right now in 2011 that’s not going to end until November 2012. I think the Virginia Senate race is going to be longer than the presidential race. Is that a crazy thing or what?”

It’s completely crazy.  Except for political junkies, who think it’s just heavenly. Or at least they do so now…13 months before the first primary ballots are cast.