Michele Bachmann is in. Time's a'wasting for undecided to enter 2012 fray.

The time is fast approaching when it'll be too late for new GOP White House wannabes to join the 2012 field. Rep. Michele Bachmann is now off the fence, announcing her bid Monday night.

Jim Cole/AP
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota answers a question as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (c.) applauds while CNN's John King (l.) looks on during the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, on Monday, June 13. Bachmann, invited as an unannounced contender for the 2012 nomination, used the debate to announce she had filed papers earlier in the day to run.

Michele Bachmann's entry into the field of official presidential contenders raises this question: Is it getting late early out there for Republican White House wannabes?

The field is shaping up. But Sarah Palin, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry apparently are still hemming and hawing about whether to run or not. The time may be approaching when they might as well not bother.

When Yogi Berra first said, “it gets late early out there,” he was discussing the fact that the shadows in Yankee Stadium’s left field crept up long before dusk. Translated to politics, this means the window for a successful candidacy might close long before primaries actually start, as donors, consultants, and voters line up behind other choices. Has that already happened?

If it has, then all those folks who are having a good time hemming and hawing about whether they will grace the field with their presence can just stick to their current line of work. But first, let’s take all the nonincumbent major-party nominees since 1960. Next, let’s identify the dates they gave their speeches to officially enter the race. Then we’ll add up the number of months before the elections actually occurred, and divide by the total number of candidates.

That’ll give us a decent idea about when successful candidates jumped in.The result? On average, candidates who won their party’s nomination announced for president 15.4 months prior to the general election. Apply that to this cycle, and it means that Republicans now saying “maybe” have until mid-July to say “yes.” (We’re looking at you, Rick Perry and Rudy Giuliani.)

Except ... when you look at the actual list of candidate names, you’re struck by the inverse relationship between a candidate’s existing political infrastructure and the announcement time. Those who started with little but a smile and a dream, like Jimmy Carter, jumped in early. He announced for president in December 1974 – almost two years before he beat Gerald Ford in the ’76 election. Those with a substantial fundraising base, national exposure, and a solid team of professionals tended to wait.

Thus George W. Bush declared for the 2000 race on June 12, 1999. In relation to the 2012 cycle, that would be about now.

True, every campaign is different. But if we were a GOP luminary tempted by the unsettled nature of the current field, we’d peer out at the gathering dark in left field and think hard about whether late was already upon us.

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