The 2012 election, in two parts

National presidential election campaigns perforce are oceanic, not nuanced events that turn slowly, and sometimes waste more time on irrelevant issues — Quemoy and Matsu, a candidate’s tears (Muskie) or innocent comment (Romney, the elders, brainwash).

But campaigns all evolve in two parts: I. Inspiration and II. Perspiration. The former prevails in the primaries; the latter in the candidates’ campaigns themselves.

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This year Romney never captured the inspiration his party needed in the primaries. His primary opponents did, one by one, on effervescent issues (think 9-9-9, Perry’s government shrinkage — oops, and Santorum for Pope.) But Romney won the primaries by attrition; he was the last one standing as inept opponents each vanished. There never was the love that, for example, candidate Obama generated in 2008, JFK did in 1960, McCarthy and RFK did in 1968.

So 2012 will come down to phase II. Even if President Obama remains popular with his party, the excitement, passion and poetry of 2008 isn’t there. The winner in 2012 will be the candidate who best performs part II of the campaign, the perspiration factor. President Obama is supposed to have a great operation on the ground to register and get out the vote. He did in 2008, and will in 2012. Candidate Romney’s only chance to catch up and overtake President Obama now is to use his abundant resources, passionate base and the drive the Republican Party has to regain the White House to get out his vote. And, as we’ve seen already, to frustrate Obama’s voters’ votes.

We learned in 2000 that the Republicans play hardball better than the Democrats. However favorable it looks today for President Obama, it isn’t over.