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Dems on GOP: What are they waiting for?

By Jim Acosta and Erika Dimmler, CNN
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GOP candidates lay low
  • President Obama announces re-election bid on Monday
  • So far, no Republicans have officially stepped into the race
  • GOP strategist says the wait is a good thing for his party

Washington (CNN) -- The first major official candidate for president in 2012 is ... Barack Obama?

Republicans are still waiting for a prominent GOP contender to formally announce a run for the White House. The slow rollout isn't lost on Democrats.

"The first question I have is: what are they waiting for?" said former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "If you look back four years ago, we were all in the race. We had all raised tens of millions of dollars. We had our field operations everywhere. ... I think they have a real problem."

Most of the possible GOP candidates, also known in Washington as the "potentials," have set up political action committees. But the most talked about contenders have yet to file the necessary paperwork for a presidential exploratory committee. A few of the "potentials" have said they are in no rush, signaling they should have a decision by summer.

"I see that as a good thing," said Kevin Madden, a former spokesman for Republican Mitt Romney's 2008 campaign. "We always tend to judge the current campaign by the most recent campaign, right? Everybody is looking for the best tank in the last war."

Madden said the 2008 campaign was a wide-open race featuring no incumbent president on the ballot, putting a premium on a quick rollout.

"We also had many folks on the Republican side who were driven to get in and raise money early because two of the leading candidates, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, had 100% name identification," Madden said.

Then-candidate Obama faced a similar challenge in 2008. His main rivals were Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

Fast starts can also be costly. McCain made an early entry into the '08 race and then nearly ran out of money before the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But waiting too long could put Republicans at a competitive disadvantage. Democrats expect the president's re-election bid to raise a billion dollars for the 2012 campaign.

Top Democratic strategists argue several of the GOP "potentials" may be slowed down by more than just an abundance of caution.

"The problem is they have heavyweights. But they are all pretty comical," said CNN political contributor James Carville.

McAuliffe pointed to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's recent attempt to explain problems in his past marriages.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Gingrich raised eyebrows with his explanation for those personal troubles. "There's no question that times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt for this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate," Gingrich said.

"I think if you wanted the absolute worse case scenario is the way Newt Gingrich got it out, blaming the problems in his marriage on -- he was working hard for his country? I'm sorry, that became a laughing stock," said McAuliffe.

Romney has also played some early campaign defense on the subject of health care reform.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed into law a health care plan that included an individual mandate that requires residents in that state to buy medical insurance. Many Democrats and Republicans see "Romney-care" as the model for "Obama-care."

"There is no doubt that it is going to be a challenge," said Madden, who insisted the Massachusetts plan was never intended to be a prototype for health care reform.

Now serving as an informal adviser to Romney, Madden points out plenty of "unofficial" work is being done behind the scenes.

"I think many campaigns are more interested in being deliberate about how they go about building their campaign, raising the money and then engaging voters in many of these primary states," Madden said.

McAuliffe says the clock is ticking.

"If I was advising Republicans, I would get out there, and I'd own the message. No one is owning the message today," McAuliffe said.