2012 campaign starting later than 2008

It’s almost four years since Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the 2008 Presidential Election. David Weigel points out that at this point in that cycle, 14 candidates had already announced.

April 17, 2006: Mike Gravel (announcing a full-on campaign at the National Press Club)
October 30, 2006: Duncan Hunter (announcing he’d retire from Congress and run for president)
November 9, 2006: Tom Vilsack (announcing a full campaign)
November 13, 2006: Rudy Giuliani
November 15, 2006: John McCain
December 4, 2006: Sam Brownback
December 7, 2006: Bill Richardson (telling Fox News “I am running”)
December 15, 2006: Tommy Thompson
December 19, 2006: Jim Gilmore
December 26, 2006: John Edwards
January 3, 2007: Mitt Romney
January 7, 2007: Joe Biden (announcing his intention to create a committee, on Meet the Press)
January 11, 2007: Chris Dodd (announcing a full-on run on Don Imus’s show), Ron Paul

So far, not a single candidate has announced for 2012. What does it mean? My guess is that the candidates of 2008 were more eager to fight for an open office. By that thinking, a better comparison would be 2004. Let’s check on those dates:

May 31, 2002: Howard Dean
December 1, 2002: John Kerry
January 2, 2003: John Edwards
January 4, 2003: Richard Gephardt
January 5: Al Sharpton

Hmmmm… well, it’s not 14. But it’s still half of the eventual field of ten. And of course, it’s all the major players, including Howard Dean a full two-and-a-half years before the election. And when you count only the Democrats for 2008, you get 6, so there’s not much difference. That pretty much blows my hypothesis out of the water.

Naturally, I’d like my backup explanation to be that the Republicans are all just scared of Obama — and Fox talking points notwithstanding, I do think Obama is seen to be a stronger opponent than Bush. Still, I don’t think that’s the reason. Certainly, there are 2012 candidates out there who have already made up their minds, and I can’t see why the potential difficulty of the race would make them wait.

Perhaps there’s a very important uncertainty that they want settled before they commit? This couldn’t really be about Palin, could it?

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