Gary Oldman at the AFI Silver Theatre on Monday. (Larry French/Getty Images)

The candidates have been slogging it out for months already, shaking hands at festivals and dinners, their shifting prospects calculated and recalculated into horse-race odds, with months of this stuff still to go.

We speak, of course, of the Oscar race — and why Gary Oldman reminds us of Jon Huntsman.

Actors in this season’s prestige flicks are on a non-stop promotional circuit — talk shows, lectures, etc. — in an effort to win Academy voters as well as viewers, and their moves are endlessly analyzed by a cadre of entertainment writers trying to predict who’s up and who’s down on the path to a gold trophy.

Just like the campaign trail, huh?

Jon Huntsman in South Carolina earlier this month. (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images)

“It’s very similar,” Oldman told us. “You have to get out there a little bit.” We caught up with the British star (’70s ’stache, overcoat, thatchy bangs, twinkly eyes) as he made a whistlestop at the AFI theater in Silver Spring for a screening of his forthcoming “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Despite a quarter-century of critical acclaim (from “Sid and Nancy” onward), all this “is a first for me. I’ve never been nominated.”

Nor is he yet. Nominations are still two months away. But Oscar prognosticators have been touting him as a hot prospect since summer, after seeing nothing more than an early trailer for “Tinker.”

“It showcased his performance,” said Kristopher Tapley, who forecasts the Oscars for’s “In Contention” blog, “and that’s all you needed to know that he might be in the conversation.” (His team has factored the Best Actor race out by 30 places, with Oldman currently on the bubble for a nomination at No. 5. For Best Actress, they think it’s a battle between Viola Davis for “The Help” and Meryl Streep, who topped almost every blogger’s list months before they saw a shred of “The Iron Lady” because, hey — Meryl Streep!)

Tapley and his fellow awards-trackers know it’s not just about the acting, but the force vectors of buzz, gravitas, popularity, gaffes. (Did a homophobic slur by Mickey Rourke wreck his chances a few years ago?). Like some political reporters, Tapley worries about the “snowball effect and echo chamber” of all this coverage and hates to think it might affect the race.

The early conventional wisdom on the 2011 Best Actor race: George Clooney (“The Descendants”) is the Romney of the race, seemingly inevitable. Or will voters flirt with something edgier — like Cain or Perry, or Michael Fassbender in “Shame” (not yet opened). Leo DiCaprio (for “J. Edgar”) is Gingrich — an old pro, surging, but feels beatable. Oldman — not a very showy performance, but such a solid resumé you wager he’ll still be standing in January.

Like we said: Huntsman.

Oldman doesn’t mind campaigning. The publicity game “is more palatable” when it’s for a good product. He’s delighted with “Tinker,” he said, and enjoys touring in support of it with a director he liked, Tomas Alfredson.

“When you’re proud of something you want the word to get out,” he said. A politically shrewd answer.