Is it just FHQ or are all these comparisons that are popping up comparing the relative lack of presidential candidacy announcements for 2012 to those at this time in 2008 flawed (Dave Weigel, Wall Street Journal)? Structurally speaking, there is a fundamental difference in the motivation to throw one's hat in the ring in a year with an incumbent president running for reelection and one in which both parties have contested nominations (Yes, incumbents can be challenged, but you know what I mean.). 2012 falls into the former category while 2008 does not. 2008 is also different because for the first time since 1952, no representative from the then-current administration was going to seek the, in this case Republican, nomination in 2008. In other words, there was some urgency to jumping into the race in both parties ahead of 2008 simply because both were so wide open.
The result is a false comparison or worse yet, a comparison that is only drawn to have something about which to talk. Look, FHQ wants to talk about the 2012 presidential election process as much as any site or media outlet. Outside of, say, GOP12, we are as guilty as anyone when it comes to talking about 2012. [And there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Christian Heinze has been doing over there since late 2008. That site serves as a solid chronology of actions taken toward what FHQ has called candidate emergence.] But if we're going to talk about 2012, let's at least talk about it in terms that actually advance the conversation in a meaningful way.
If one wants to compare candidacy announcements for 2012, then, one would be better served comparing it to another similar election, like, say, the pace with which Democrats announced their candidacies for the 2004 Democratic nomination. The truth is that at this point in 2003 very few Democrats had done much of anything toward a presidential run either as the table below indicates.
|2004 Democratic Presidential Candidacy Announcements|
|Candidate||Exploratory Committee Formation||Candidacy Announcement|
|Wesley Clark||--||September 17, 2003|
|John Edwards||January 2, 2003||September 16, 2003|
|Richard Gephardt||January 4, 2003||February 19, 2003|
|Bob Graham||--||May 6, 2003|
|John Kerry||December 1, 2002||September 2, 2003|
|Dennis Kucinich||February 18, 2003||--|
|Joe Lieberman||--||January 13, 2003|
|Carol Moseley-Braun||February 19, 2003||September 22, 2003|
|Al Sharpton||January 21, 2003||--|
*News on Dean's exploratory committee and candidacy announcement is not clear on the actual dates, but several articles on the formation of the Kerry campaign's exploratory committee describe Dean as being the "only declared candidate" in December 2002.
How does the 2012 Republican field compare to the Democrats in the 2004 cycle in terms of either the formation of exploratory committees or announcing their candidacies? No Republican has officially announced that they intend to run for the Republican nomination and only Herman Cain has formed an exploratory committee. In other words, there has not been all that much activity. But how active were prospective Democrats at this time in 2003? They had been far more active on the exploratory committee front than actually officially entering the 2004 Democratic nomination race. Heading in 2003, Dean was officially in and Kerry had announced an exploratory committee. Early in January 2003, John Edwards and Richard Gephardt had filed the necessary paperwork establishing their presidential exploratory committees with the Federal Elections Commission and Joe Lieberman had announced his candidacy.
At this time in 2003, then, there were two candidates in the race and another three who had formed exploratory committees. That's more activity than we've seen from the prospective 2012 Republican candidates, but not by much.
...and that serves as a much better baseline for comparison than 2008.