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Let the 2012 Presidential Race Begin!

01/07/2011 11:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Approximately four years ago, Barack Obama stood on a chilly day in Springfield, Illinois to announce his candidacy for president; Hillary Clinton made her announcement online.

Needless to say, President Obama has not had an easy ride over the past two years. His most difficult challenge has been meeting the expectations of his candidacy: it is difficult to maintain high approval ratings when you run on intangibles such as "hope" and "change."

Yet, Democrats shouldn't lose sight of a 2012 victory just yet. Obama truly has accomplished successes during his term thus far (such as health care reform and a repeal of DADT), of which his advocates will capitalize on.

But measuring such successes remain difficult, and many Americans are still disappointed. There are members of the left who envisioned "hope" and "change" to be more progressive. In addition, it seems retrospectively that many Americans feel the focus should have been more on the economy and on jobs. And quite frankly, these individuals have a point.

Either way, in Obama's first two years, there seems to have been a gross disparity between his campaign leadership and the strength of his leadership in office.

Both parties were somewhat divided entering into the midterms, but the Democrats were much faster to unite coming out of them. In the end, the Republicans need real leadership if they want to win the White House in 2012. And real leadership is exactly where they are lacking. Furthermore, the Republicans must also be inclusive, not exclusive. This means reaching out to all Americans, not just the rich, or the straights, and so on.

So for 2012, let's briefly begin the analysis:

1. Count Palin out. She is a powerful force in local elections but is nationally unelectable. She is far too exclusive (not inclusive enough) to be nationally electable. She would be a detriment to the national Republican Party ticket. While the primaries tend to favor the more conservative candidates over the more moderate ones, voters also often take electability into account as well.

2. The Republicans must find themselves. The Democrats may have an intraparty struggle between progressivism and centrism (the Pelosis vs. the Blue Dogs) but that doesn't nearly compare to a struggle between Santorum extremism and Chris Christie "get things done"-ism. A geographical realignment of the two parties has been occurring for years (i.e. the loss of now-Governor and then-Senator Lincoln Chafee as a moderate Republican in Rhode Island and the retirement of conservative Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings in South Carolina seemed to mark the end of an era of liberal northern Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats - or did it?). The Republicans must come to realize that there need not be a paradox to practicality and strong leadership and ideology and also that ideology is not the answer to all of our problems. People in the East, both Democrats and Republicans, seem to like Christie because he gets the job done. He would be unlikely to perform electorally well, however, in the Bible Belt. Why? There, ideology (for the most part) rules.

3. Some of the preliminary ones to watch in 2012 are leaders with business or governorship (or both) backgrounds who would be able to stress the importance of jobs, should the economy not rebound. And the election will likely be somewhat about experience again. The Republicans will attack Obama on his "lack of success" and equate it to a "lack of experience." Watch both former Governor Mitt Romney and Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr., for example. I think it is much clearer that Romney will run than Huntsman, and overall, a little tip about politics: Romney is a master, but don't underestimate Huntsman. There is a reason why Huntsman apparently made Obama campaign manager David Plouffe a "wee bit queasy" a few years ago. Note: name recognition is not a barrier to success. Sometimes it can actually be the best element of surprise.

As a moderate Democrat I think there is something fair to say as a synopsis: We need a good race and we desperately need it in 2012. Tired of polar extremes, of the Michelle Bachmans, Jim DeMints, and Sarah Palins who are simply tearing their party apart and quite frankly tearing America apart with their vitriolic ways, I for one, want to hear about the issues again. I want substantive debates over the next two years.

Our country has the intellectual power to lead. Substantive intellectual, thoughtful, conversational dialogues surrounding issues would be a good way to start. Start the engines and let the race begin.

To contact the author, please visit: www.DavidHelfenbein.com.