Does the 2012 primary campaign really start in January 2011?  Perhaps not.  Most of the presumed contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have apparently decided to skip the Hispanic Leadership Conference despite its location in Florida, a key state in the early part of the primary schedule.  Of the generally-recognized candidates for the ticket, only outgoing Governor Tim Pawlenty has confirmed his appearance next month:

It was billed, in part, as a forum for the 2012 Republican presidential field to speak directly to Hispanics – a replica of the vaunted Conservative Political Action Conference, but tailored to the fastest-growing slice of the electorate.

Yet, when former Gov. Jeb Bush, former Sen. Norm Coleman and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez open the first Hispanic Leadership Network conference next month in Miami, the only potential presidential candidate confirmed to attend – so far – is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. …

A poor showing could raise doubts about the commitment of Republicans to court Hispanics, one of the open-ended questions of the 2012 presidential cycle.

It could, but there are some mitigating factors.  The conference is being held at about the same time as the RNC winter meeting, for one thing.  That won’t usually require attendance by candidates, but the organizers within the party will most likely opt for the RNC meeting rather than the first iteration of this conference.  The organizers may want to make this “the CPAC for Hispanic Republicans,” but the actual CPAC is just a couple of weeks later.  The activities in Washington will overshadow Miami, and the organizers of the HLC will probably be attending CPAC anyway.

The general timing may not work well, either.  Unlike the 2008 cycle, when both parties had an open primaries for the first time in decades, the GOP can take its time putting a pre-primary campaign together.  No one will feel rushed into making January announcements; most candidates need time to organize for a national campaign.  Some of those sending regrets also hold political office now, such as Senator John Thune, Governor Mitch Daniels, Governor Rick Perry, and Governor Haley Barbour (who hasn’t confirmed his response either way).  Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have media jobs that they will want to extend as far as possible before having to take hiatuses after announcing their intent to run.  Pawlenty’s term of office ends this month and he’s been organizing for a while, which means those pressures won’t keep him from outreach efforts like this.

The organizers for HLC perhaps should have rethought their scheduling and picked a date farther into spring, perhaps in April or May for their first-ever conference.  Its close proximity to CPAC alone will mean that potential attendees may have to decide whether to spend money in Miami for a limited event or spend it in DC for CPAC where they can network on a much wider basis.  The GOP definitely needs to organize to make their case to Hispanic voters, but organizers need to keep logistics in mind, too.