The Washington Post has a good article this morning about the Obama re-election campaign getting started sooner rather than later. The most notable aspect of the article is just the top line. Republican candidates all seem to be getting started very late this cycle. Obama announced his candidacy (officially) on February 10, 2007. Several other candidates had done so as well by this point. The Republicans in 2011 have no major officially declared candidates and very few who have formed exploratory committees. It is true that the primaries are likely to get started a little later in 2012 than they did in 2008 and there is more oxygen in the room since there is no competitive primary on the Democratic side. But I think the Republicans are moving too slowly. Undeclared candidates like Huckabee and Palin continue to brand the party and suck up all the oxygen out there.
Republican candidates would be wise to remember that running a primary campaign is not just about winning the primary. It is also about laying the foundation for a strong general election campaign. The state of Indiana in 2008 is the lesson. Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964. That shift was not just the result of a good year for Democrats. It was also the result of a fierce competition to win Indiana between then Sens. Clinton and Obama (Hillary won it very narrowly) in the primary. Obama built a strong organization in the state and McCain did not.
Romney et. al. need to be building up volunteer and activist bases in key early states as well as other states at this point, not to mention raising money. And they are not doing it yet. I suspect they will pay a price for this in November 2012.