2012 presidential election starts this weekend. Really?

On Saturday, members of New Hampshire's GOP leadership will vote in a straw poll on possible GOP candidates in the 2012 presidential election.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, on Sept. 17, 2010, in Washington. Will Romney run for President in 2012?
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty gestures as he speaks on Jan. 14, during a Republican gathering at the Biltmore Hotel in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, Fla. Will Pawlenty be a GOP candidate in the 2012 presidential election?

The 2012 presidential election – does it start in earnest this weekend? Kind of. On Saturday, New Hampshire Republican State Committee members will vote in their first-ever straw poll for GOP presidential candidates. Take that, Iowa!

Yes, the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary won’t occur for more than a year. Before that are Iowa’s caucuses – which New Englanders consider to be suspiciously vague and thus not a real election – and those won’t happen until Feb. 6, 2012.

We don’t even know who’s running. Sarah Palin? She might stick with media deals. Mike Huckabee? Ditto. Mitt Romney? OK, we’re pretty sure Mr. Romney is in.

Rudolph Giuliani said on MSNBC Thursday that he’s considering another bid. It’s been awhile since 2008: Perhaps GOP voters have forgotten that he’s a moderate. Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, appears to be trying to position himself for something national. New Hampshirites might like him, as he’s used to their weather.

Plus, someone named Herman Cain has been appearing on cable chat shows talking about a potential 2012 run, saying the party needs a businessperson’s perspective. (No, Mr. Cain did not write “The Caine Mutiny.” That was Herman Wouk. Cain is a former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza.)

Anyway, this weekend the 493 members of the New Hampshire GOP leadership will meet at Pinkerton Academy in Derry to elect a new state chairman. While they’re at it, they’ll participate in a ballot sponsored by ABC News and local WMUR television.

The ballot will have a list of some 20 of the most-mentioned possible candidates. Voters will get to mark their first and second choice. They will also reportedly be asked to name what they think the first priority of the next president should be.

Since it’s New Hampshire, and it’s January, we think “speed up global warming” might get some votes.

While this process is far from scientific and the sample size is small, you can be sure that those who do well in this poll will trumpet it as a triumph. Since it’s so early, candidates will get to define victory in whatever way they want. For Cain, getting maybe two votes could be considered a win, for instance. So in that sense, it is indeed part of the electoral continuum that begins around now, or maybe began some time ago, and will culminate in November 2012.

After the winners are announced, the assembled committee members will rise as one and sing the state song, “Old New Hampshire.”

Just kidding. But as a bonus we’ll leave you with the song chorus:

Old New Hampshire, Old New Hampshire

Old New Hampshire Grand and Great

We will sing of Old New Hampshire,

Of the dear old Granite State.

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