Why the 2012 GOP Race Isn't a Replay of the Obama-Clinton Contest

If anything it's a bizarro, opposite version of the 2008 Democratic primary race.

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One of the more interesting comparisons that keeps coming up in relation to the GOP’s neverending primary season is to the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton race of four years ago. I’ve thought for a while that the critical difference between ’08 and ’12 lay in the quality of the candidates. I remember four years ago being torn between Obama and Clinton because I liked them both—a far cry from the days of, “Well I guess Gore’s OK, better than Bradley anyway,” and “Yeah I’ll vote for Kerry, he’s got a better chance than Dean.” You’d be hard pressed to find a Republican who could with a straight face and clear conscience assert that they’re torn between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich because golly they’re all so talented.

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP presidential race.]

The good folks over at the Pew Research Center released a new poll today which helps put some statistical meat on my argument’s bones. Only 49 percent of GOP and GOP-leaning registered voters think that the Republican field is excellent or good this year, according to the new survey, while 48 percent think that their candidates are fair or poor. Contrast those numbers with the Democrats four years ago. In February of 2008, 80 percent of Democrats described Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as being excellent or good candidates, Pew’s Michael Domick told reporters this morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “They were thrilled,” he said.

Overall, four years ago, 56 percent of voters viewed Obama favorably, a number that hasn’t changed, while 45 percent had a positive view of eventual GOP nominee John McCain. Today only 29 percent view Romney favorably, while 27 percent have a positive view of Santorum.

[Enter the debate: Should Newt Gingrich drop out?]

In a way, this isn’t a GOP replay of the 2008 Democratic race, it’s a mirror universe, bizarre version of it.

The one commonality is a driving loathing for the incumbent president. “Arguably that’s still there among Republicans, and that’s the question—will that fire bring them all back together?” Domick said. “But Democrats had both” the excitement and the anger.

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