As the 2012 election draws closer, Democrats are getting less — not more — enthusiastic about the prospect of voting for president.

US President Barack Obama speaks at the Asheville Regional Airport in Fletcher, North Carolina, on October 17, 2011 during the first day of his three-day American Jobs Act bus tour to discuss jobs and the economy. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Those numbers compare unfavorably to Democratic enthusiasm number in CNN surveys from the spring and summer, when 56 percent and 55 percent of Democrats, respectively, described themselves as either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about voting next year.

By contrast, the level of Republican enthusiasm has been high and steady for months. In a March CNN survey, 64 percent said they were “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about voting in 2012; an equal 64 percent said the same in the October survey.

Here’s why the decline in Democratic excitement about 2012 matters. The enthusiasm gap in March was eight points in Republicans’ favor; now it’s 21 points in their favor.

Some of that gap is attributable to the fact that the party out of the White House is almost always more enthusiastic about retaking the office than the party that currently occupies it. (It’s like in sports; the defending champs tend not to be as hungry to win again as the teams they beat the year before.)

And, polling makes clear that much of the support the leading Republicans are winning is due in no small part to distaste with President Obama.

A recent Pew survey asked head-to-head matchups between Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and went the extra step of asking those supporting the Republican candidates whether their vote was for Romney/Perry or against Obama.

Of the 48 percent who said they back Romney in a head-to-head against Obama, 33 percent said it was a vote against the incumbent; of Perry’s 46 percent, 31 percent said it was a vote against Obama.

While the “party out of power” dynamic helps explain the enthusiasm gap, it doesn’t minimize the political problem facing Obama.

The simple fact in politics is that enthusiastic people vote. So, when there is a major gap between enthusiasm levels of the two parties’ bases, it’s a big deal.

The last two presidential elections bear that reality out. In the final CNN survey before the 2008 election, Democrats had a 19-point enthusiasm edge over Republicans. Four years earlier, Republicans had a 12-point enthusiasm lead.

Obama and his political team are clearly aware of the danger inherent in a less-than-enthusiastic Democratic base. In the last month he has pivoted hard to a sharper-edged (and more campaign-focused) message that focuses on his attempts to bring about change in Washington and Republican efforts to block progress.

That’s a message that should resonate with his base and bump up enthusiasm numbers as the calendar turns to 2012. If Obama can’t move those numbers over the next few months, his chances at winning a second term will be significantly reduced.

Iowa GOP chairman confirms Jan. 3 date: Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses will indeed be set for Jan. 3, state party chairman Matt Strawn announced late Monday.

In a release, Strawn said: “A Jan. 3 date provides certainty to the voters, to our presidential candidates, and to the thousands of statewide volunteers who make the Caucus process a reflection of the very best of our representative democracy.”

This does nothing, of course, to clear up the standoff between New Hampshire and Nevada. The Nevada GOP has said it will pick Jan. 14 for its caucuses, but New Hampshire wants it to move back to Jan. 17 or laters, so that New Hampshire can comply with state law that requires its contest to be a week before any similar contest.

If Nevada doesn’t move, New Hampshire has threatened to set its primary for early or mid-December.

In related news, GOP leaders in New Hampshire are trying to push Romney into a corner by urging him to join the Nevada boycott. Nevada and New Hampshire are both state the Romney is banking on winning, so don’t expect him to take the bait, unless he really thinks it will cost him in the Granite State.

Proposed court map in Nevada: With the Democratic state legislature and the Republican governor unable to reach a deal on redistricting in Nevada, a court special master has issued a proposed congressional map.

The plan would create a Demcoratic-leaning new 4th district, but would also shore up vulnerable GOP Rep. Joe Heck, most likely leaving the delegation split with two Republicans and two Democrats.

The plan would create one northern 2nd district anchored in Reno, a central 4th district that takes in much of northern Clark County (where Las Vegas and most of the state’s population is), an urban 1st district in Las Vegas and a 3rd district in south Clark County.

Democrats would be heavily favored to hold the 1st, even with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) running for Senate, and the 4th leans a little Democratic. Special election-winning Rep. Mark Amodei (R) would be a strong favorite in the 2nd, and Heck would have a decent district in the 3rd — more of a swing district rather than his current district, which leans slightly Democratic.

A coterie of ambitious Las Vegas-area Democrats are ready to run for the 1st and 4th districts.

Las Vegas debate tonight: Sticking with the Nevada theme — the state is set to hold another presidential debate at 8 p.m. eastern tonight on CNN.

One familiar face — former Utah governor Jon Huntsman — will not be there, as he is boycotting the state in solidarity with New Hampshire. Other candidates are threatening to boycott the state but still taking part in tonight’s debate.

For more on the debate, check out Post colleague Nia-Malika Henderson’s five things to watch over at our new Election 2012 blog.

Warren says she’s going for the ‘hick’ vote: Massachusetts Republicans are hitting Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren for using the h-word — “hick.”

On a left-leaning podcast, Warren can be heard describing herself as a “hick” — an apparent effort to downplay GOP attacks that she is an elite — and says she will be going after “the hick vote” during her campaign against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

“I’m going for the hick vote here, I just want you to know,” Warren says in audio posted to YouTube. “Maybe we could start wearing stickers that say ‘Hicks for Elizabeth’ – could we do that?”

That fact that Warren was using the term for herself likely lessens whatever controversy it might have caused.

But Republicans got in trouble last year when a casting call for an ad they were running in the West Virginia Senate race called for “hicky” looking actors.


Someone stole Obama’s teleprompter — and a lot of other stuff.

The Obama campaign hits one million donors.

Arkansas state Rep. Clark Hall (D) gives Democrats a big-name challenger for freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.).

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) says he probably won’t endorse in the GOP presidential race before the Iowa caucuses.

Mitt Romney adjusts the language about his time at Bain Capital on his financial disclosure forms.

Filing has begun for the New Hampshire primary, even though we don’t know when it will be held, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R) and Ron Paul have already filed.

Maryland Democrats advance their redistricting proposal, despite intra-party resistence..


Is Herman Cain serious?” — Reid J. Epstein, Politico

Lessons from ‘08 strengthen Romney” — Brian C. Mooney, Boston Globe

Presidential hopefuls’ spouses come under scrutiny” — Beth Fouhy, AP

Questions raised over Perry campaign’s reimbursement for use of private plane” — Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jim Rutenberg, New York Times