Obama camp worries over threat from Romney
In October 2007, an opinion poll among Democratic primary voters showed Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by a whopping 53 to 20 per cent. Around the same time, John McCain was trailing Rudy Giuliani in the Republican ranks by a similarly forbidding margin.
I clearly remember a panel of Washington's great and good, just eight weeks before the Iowa caucuses, confidently predicting that Mrs Clinton would beat Mr Obama.
One saw the Republican nomination as a two-horse race between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, while another forecast a Romney win in Iowa.
All those projections were, of course, wrong. Mr Obama beat Mrs Clinton in a cliffhanger and the old charger Mr McCain came from the back of the pack to win the Republican nomination by a comfortable margin.
Mr Romney flopped in Iowa. It is therefore tempting to reject the prevailing Washington wisdom that last week concluded Mr Romney was the near-certain 2012 Republican nominee.
It would be prudent to warn that a race can change very quickly. It would be wise to point out that Mr Romney has failed to capture the hearts of the Republican base -- he remains stuck on 22 to 25 per cent in polls.
But there are sharp differences between the races of now and four years ago. Mr Obama was, as he soon demonstrated, a strong alternative to Mrs Clinton.
Republican voters, on the other hand, have already taken a good look at Mr Romney's rivals and, after brief flirtations, turned their backs. The more colourful and more conservative alternatives such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have shone brightly, then seen their stars fade.
Now Herman Cain, whose claim to fame is turning around a failing pizza chain, is the new beneficiary of the Tea Party's search for a right-wing standard bearer. But he has no ground campaign to speak of and will surely stumble soon.
Mr Romney's great advantage, apart from the weakness of the competition, is that he has done all this before. The faults and problems exposed last time around are now well known -- the flip-flopping on abortion, the Mormonism -- and have much less impact.
The Obama camp, fully expecting Mr Romney to win the nomination, has already begun attacking his knack for reinvention.
But they know that his moderation would be a threat to the president. Compare Romney with his Republican competitors. Some don't believe in evolution, deride homosexuality and would ban Muslims from their cabinet.
Mr Obama and his advisers are therefore praying that a candidate favoured by the Tea Party Republicans can pull off the sort of transformation he managed at this stage four years ago. Nothing would be more certain to win this White House a second term.