Elephant Watcher has a pretty good explanation why Gov. Palin and most of the other top-tier potential GOP candidates haven't been in a rush to sign up for the GOP 2012 White House Derby. As the theory goes, the primary season has four phases, and things don't really begin to heat up until Phase Three, which doesn't begin until Labor Day. While political junkies are already chomping at the bit, the electorate won't even begin to get really interesting until the final phase, sometime around the date of the Iowa Caucuses. We are currently still in Phase One:
Back in 2007, none of the candidates understood any of this. They thought the sooner they started campaigning, the better. There was sort of an "arms race," with none of the candidates wanting to fall behind. In reality, their efforts in the winter, spring, and even summer of 2007 were mostly wasted. By campaigning so long before most people were paying attention, they were building sandcastles next to the water: The money and effort they put in seemed to have no lasting impact.The Watcher contends that the power candidates have an "unstated agreement" among themselves not to begin tossing their hats into the ring "until later," probably near the labor Day threshold. Many candidates may have already made up their minds whether they're going to run, but continue to play copy. Those who are genuinely still weighing the advantages and disadvantages of running are playing the waiting game to see which of their potential rivals are likely going to run.
It is easier to see it in hindsight: Rudy Giuliani spent plenty of money throughout 2007 but got nowhere. Mike Huckabee experienced a sudden "boom" in popularity toward the end of 2007, because that was when people were actually starting to pay attention in Iowa. Fred Thompson was criticized for getting into the race later, in the late summer of 2007, but it was his lack of enthusiasm once he was in the race that doomed his campaign.
This time, the candidates understand there is little point in doing too much before the summer. Campaigning is not only exhausting to the candidates; it is expensive (especially if it means terminating a contract with Fox News). When a candidate's campaign is started too early, it often spends money faster than it can raise it, rather than building up assets over time.
If all of this sounds like a rather elaborate game of Flinch, with the other players all looking at those cards Sarah Palin is showing to evaluate their own prospects, that's because it is. But in the special White House Edition of the game, the stakes couldn't be higher.