You Can’t Have a Presidential Campaign Without Candidates

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So it’s come to this. NBC News and Politico have postponed their first blockbuster Republican presidential primary debate, originally scheduled to take place at the Reagan Library in May. The reasons are obvious: Few candidates have even formed exploratory committees and the major players expected to shape the race haven’t yet declared their intentions.

Of course many of the potential candidates’ intentions are perfectly transparent: There was little space, if any, between Mitt Romney’s efforts in 2008 and his steps to set up the organizational and financial juggernaut he has now. Tim Pawlenty has been on a book tour and is cutting melodramatic action movie trailers about himself. Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, has been to Iowa and South Carolina dozens of times.  But for all the talk of Halperin’s “invisible primary” starting earlier each cycle, none of the candidates have yet officially declared. By this time in 2007, almost everyone was in. It may be summer before we have a good idea of who’s in this time. Here’s why:

Current responsibilities

Jon Huntsman, attempting the daredevil leap from loyal Obama employee to political rival, can’t leave his post in China until the end of April and is forbidden from having any real links to his fledgling political operation until his Ambassadorship is done. Mitch Daniels has a full plate governing Indiana. Though there’s a good chance he won’t ever pull the trigger, he’s saying that task has delayed his decision.

The perks of not officially running for President

Mike Huckabee has been more than frank that two years without an income is less than desirable for him. If he were to officially run (it’s worth mentioning there’s a good chance he won’t ever enter the race), he’d have to forfeit his talk show money and all the trappings of a successful TV personality.

Legal complications

Newt Gingrich came very close to “a big announcement,” but had to pull back at the last minute because the financial web of his pseudo-political cottage industry couldn’t be disentangled quickly enough to make a run compliant with campaign finance laws.

End-around the press

As soon as a politician declares a presidential candidacy, they generally get a lot of press. But the traditional avenues are becoming less crucial to raising publicity as many in the prospective field have substantial social media presences, cable news contributor contracts or both.

Who’s afraid of Sarah Palin?

There’s been some speculation that many prospective candidates, unsure of what Palin will do, when she might enter a race, or how her dynamic and divisive brand of politics might tip the primary contest, are waiting on her to show her cards. She hasn’t given many signs of interest in the race. But it’s not just her. Huckabee, Daniels and others don’t seem poised to run, but could change the race significantly by jumping in late. There are frontrunners, but no Goliaths. Uncertainty is making candidates wary.

Meanwhile, President Obama has fewer than three weeks left before he makes his reelection announcement. The machinery is largely already in place. And while he’s out pressing flesh and charming open wallets, not one his Republican rivals will “officially” be in the game.