At the time, the 2008 election felt like a watershed event. We elected our first black president after he edged out a female candidate in the primary. But in a lot of ways, race was the dog that didn’t bark in the election (it’s barking now, I agree). For all the talk about the “Bradley effect”, Obama did almost exactly as well as polls predicted. He even won two confederate states.
The Republicans nominated an heir apparent, even if he trailed a bit early on. They lost badly in the November, because the economy was in the tank and the public hated the Republican incumbent president. Not too much new in that storyline.
The 2012 election is shaping up to be a different kind of election. Between 1980 and 2004, there was a clear Republican front-runner the year before the presidential primaries and in every case this frontrunner won the nomination. In 2008, things were a bit different, but only because of the general Giuliani weirdness; McCain was up 20-8 over Romney. Right now, Romney, Palin, and Huckabee are just about tied in the upper teens, and Palin and Huckabee may not even run. A crazy reality-show millionaire Republican candidate is getting more attention than any other candidate by being a full-on birther, while a crazy millionaire reality show Republican non-candidate has gotten so big her supporters say the presidency would be a step down. Michele Bachmann has to be considered a possible nominee, given her possible strength in Iowa and remarkable fundraising abilities. There have been weird semi-serious Republican candidates before, but the ones on this list, at least, had nowhere near Bachmann’s potential.
The economy is deep in the shitter, but Republican strategists think it’s unlikely that they can unseat Obama. When I look at the demographics, at the rise in the number of Latinos and the likelihood that they will support Obama at the same or higher levels as in 2008, I agree.
We are looking at an election where no one knows who the Republican nominee will be and where no one thinks that nominee will have much of a chance, even with economic conditions that would normally make an incumbent beatable. This is uncharted territory.