NEW ORLEANS — Let the 2012 race begin.
Little more than a year into President Barack Obama’s first term, Republicans considering a challenge to the Democrat in his re-election bid were gauging their political strength at the first GOP candidate “cattle call” far from Washington — the three-day Southern Republican Leadership Conference.
Yet as Sarah Palin, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich and several others gather in Louisiana, they face a stark reality: The Republican Party’s task will be tough no matter who wins the GOP nomination.
Toppling Obama is all but certain to be difficult, judging by history. Only five times in the last century has an incumbent lost re-election; the most recent were Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.
And neither was as personally popular as Obama, who became a cultural phenomenon long before he was elected the nation’s first black president.
Plus, the GOP has long-term institutional challenges; its ranks have shrunk and the South is the only region Republican nominee John McCain won in 2008