Just a few months after the 2010 mid-term elections ended, the 2012 presidential cycle will begin. Politco and NBC News will co-sponsor the first Republican presidential debate “during the spring of 2011,” the website reports today. The debate will be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.
A spring presidential debate, though it comes months before caucusing begins in Iowa or most Americans are paying any attention, is becoming a tradition of the now elongated presidential election process. The Democratic candidates for president in 2008 gathered in Orangeburg, SC on April 26, 2007 for what was then the earliest presidential debate. The organizers of next year’s debate did not announce specific dates for the forum, but there’s a chance it could come even earlier than the ‘07 debate did. (The Reagan Library was also the site of the first Republican debate of 2008, but it took place in May after the Democratic forum.)
For Republicans, the early debate comes in a much different environment than the Democratic debate three years ago did. Democrats, newly unified by their party’s win in the 2006 Congressional elections, were vying for the nomination in a world where there would be no incumbent in the presidential race and most gave the advantage to the Democratic nominee.
Republicans running for president face a different climate. Though they just won big in the mid-terms, their party remains split between tea party conservatives and establishment figures, a split that is expected to carry through the 2012 race.
And the Democrats still have a strong nominee in President Obama, who all expect to seek a second term. Though Obama has lost some of his 2008 luster, he’s still the nation’s first African American president and an inspiration for his party. No one — except for maybe the most pumped-up tea partier — believes defeating Obama will be an easy task.
The biggest question about the Spring debate at this point is who will attend from the many, many Republicans mentioned as possible presidential candidates in the past two years. More to the point, the biggest question is will Sarah Palin attend. Her potential run for the nomination has dominated the Republican presidential storyline since John McCain lost to Obama in 2008, and if Palin shows up to stake her claim as the tea party’s candidate early on, it could change the dynamics of things quite a bit.