MSNBC is expecting to see election-year ratings gains in 2012, but not as big of a leap as the cabler took in 2008.

MSNBC prexy Phil Griffin was cautious about projecting viewership growth as the presidential race heats up.

”We couldn’t possibly have 40 percent growth” that the cabler saw in 2008, Griffin said during the cabler’s sesh Saturday at the TCA press tour in Pasadena.

Still, ”we’re counting on it to be a big year,” he added.

The 2008 race marked MSNBC’s breakout year after its transformation to a liberal alternative to Fox News, and it thrived on the competish among Democrats to succeed George W. Bush in the White House.

This time around, Griffin said he’s been surprised so far at the more muted response from viewers to political coverage across the cable news spectrum.

”Nobody blew it out” last week with coverage of Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, adding that he ”expected a bigger night out of Fox News.”

MSNBC used its TCA time to give a big push to its ”Morning Joe” ayemcast. Griffin touted the show’s growth and popularity because of its focus on in-depth interviews and measured tone, compared to other cable politico skeins.

” ‘Morning Joe’ has become one of the great brands in cable,” Griffin enthused.