Next week's primaries: what you need to know

The low down on Arizona, Michigan and Washington.

Next week will see primaries in Arizona and Michigan on 28 February and the Washington caucuses on 3 March. The final debate before Super Tuesday on 6 March is tonight in Phoenix, Arizona, making it arguably the most important debate to date.

This week's campaigning may prove to be make-or-break for Mitt Romney. If he wins in Arizona and Michigan, he once again cements himself as the frontrunner in the GOP race. However, should Santorum take them then he will have lost more states than he has won and proven that he cannot connect with the conservative right.

The race remains volatile, with slim margins between Santorum and Romney in Arizona and Michigan. Although Romney is expected to win in Arizona -- laregly due to its significant Mormon population -- his position is precarious and will be undermined should Newt Gingrich's supporters switch their allegiance to Santorum and decide that he is now the only viable conservative alternative to Romney.

Mirroring John McCain in 2008, Romney also seems to have an edge with the Latino population in Arizona. Even if he loses the white vote to Santorum, a big win among the Latinos could still mean that Romney takes the state.

Crucially, Arizona is also a winner takes all state meaning that it gives all of its 29 delegates to the candidate with the most votes, regardless of how close the race is. Since Michigan is seen as more fertile ground for Santorum's message, it is unlikely that he will pour valuable resources into Arizona.

If polling predictions show Romney with a significant lead in Arizona, Santorum may well pull out in order to focus his efforts on Michigan.

Michigan, however, is a different story and may prove to be a turning point in deciding the Republican nomination. Despite the fact that Romney was born in Michigan, his father serving as governor there for six years, and has the endorsement of most Michigan GOP leaders including the governor, the more conservative and blue-collar electorate are likely to favour Santorum.

The Romney camp is spending more than twice as much as Santorum and his allies in Michigan. The Massachusetts governor ensured that he successfully dominated the airwaves in Florida and looks set to do the same in Michigan. He will also be helped by fellow candidate Ron Paul's recent ad attacking Rick Santorum as a faux fiscal conservative.

However, Michigan is an open primary, meaning that any registered voter can participate, making it difficult to predict the outcome. Non-Republicans will make up a third of the electorate and could be the determining factor. Should Democrats decide to vote and shake up the race - as they did in 2000 when they voted for John McCain over George W Bush supporter John Engler - it could be Santorum who leaves Michigan the victor.

Also making Michigan tough to predict is the fact that, like Florida, it is a very divided state. While the northwestern parts are more conservative and therefore more likely to vote for Santorum, the southeastern parts, including Detroit, are wealthier and likely to indentify more with Romney than evangelical Santorum.

A victory for Santorum in the Washington caucuses on 3 March would give the Senator some much needed delegates, although since the voting is after the Arizona and Michigan primaries, the outcome may be influenced by the results there.

With next week's primaries set to be as exciting as Super Tuesday, Michigan could prove to be the most important moment yet in Romney's presidential bid as he struggles to maintain hold over his frontrunner status.

Santorum has won three of the last five states and is showing staying power far beyond his team's finances and organisation. If Romney loses both primaries on 28 February and the Washington caucus, for which polling predictions suggest a close race, it would be his sixth loss in seven contests heading into Super Tuesday - all to Santorum.

With everything to play for, tonight's debate in Arizona could be monumental and there's no doubt that both Santorum and Romney will be hoping for homerun performances in what could be a decisive turning point for both campaigns.

 

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What's happened to the German left?

For a fourth successive election, the left seems to be failing to challenge the status quo.

When Germany goes to the polls this weekend, Angela Merkel is expected to win a fourth term in office. Merkel has maintained her commanding lead in the polls on 37 per cent, while her closest competitor, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been relegated to, at best, a possible coalition partner. 

The expectation that the status quo will continue has left commentators and politicians of all stripes asking: what has happened to the German left?

Lagging behind in the polls, with just 20 per cent of the country's voting intention, Martin Schulz’s SPD has slumped to its lowest level this year only days before the vote, according to the latest poll by Infratest dimap for ARD television.  

Even the prospect of a left-wing alternative to a Merkel-led coalition appears to have become unpalatable to the electorate. An alliance between the SPD, die Grünen (the Greens) and the socialist party die Linke (the Left) would not reach the threshold needed to form a government.

One explanation for the German left's lack of impact is the success Merkel has had in stifling her opposition by moving closer to the centre ground. Over the last four years, she has ruled a grand coalition known as GroKo (Große Koalition) with the centre-left SPD, leaving many of its voters believing their party was no longer any different to the chancellor's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Rolf Henning, 34, has been a member of the SPD since 2004. Campaigning in Pankow, a diverse area of eastern Berlin which has traditionally voted on the left, he told the New Statesman that although the coalition had enabled the SPD to push its social agenda, the party did not receive any credit for it.  

“It is now hard to motivate people to vote for the SPD because people think it will not make any difference. If we were to enter a coalition again with Merkel and the CDU then our support base will drain even further,” he said.  

Another grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD is very much on the cards, as Merkel is unlikely to win an outright majority. But while the arrangement has seemingly worked out well for the chancellor, its benefits for the SPD seem rather less certain.

“The political strength of the left is an illusion," says Gero Neugebauer, a political analyst and a former senior researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, "The SPD did a good job in the coalition to push issues of social policy and family policies, but Ms Merkel took the credit for a lot of it. People saw the car and the chauffer rather than paying attention to the engine."

In 2015, under pressure from the SPD, the Merkel administration introduced a minimum wage in Germany, a benchmark for many in the party which yet did little to gloss over the SPD’s image. On the contrary, Merkel’s election campaign sought to win over disillusioned SPD voters.

According to Neugebauer, the left-wing parties have failed to work together to form a real alternative coalition to the Merkel administration. He warns that Germany’s left-wing camp has become “an illusion” with “virtual power”.

For a short-lived moment the election of Martin Schulz, the former president of the EU Parliament, to head the SPD, brought hope to the idea of a left-wing coalition. 

Stefan Liebich, a member of parliament for die Linke representing the Pankow district, says the SPD initially rose in the polls because people thought there could be an alternative coalition to Merkel. "But then the SPD made a lot of mistakes and they were wrongly told they would lose support if they worked with us," he adds.

"Now nobody believes a left-wing coalition could ever happen because the SPD is so low in the polls.” 

Before Schulz took over the SPD, few believed that after four years in the coalition government the party had a good chance in the upcoming election. “But Schulz arrived and said ‘I will be chancellor’ and it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes,” says Neugebauer.

Schulz revived the social-democratic tradition and spoke about social justice, but the delay of his election programme left many wondering whether he would be able to walk the walk – and his popularity started to fall.

“Compared to Merkel, he became less credible and less trustworthy,” says Neugebauer.  

The SPD are, of course, not the only left-wing party running. Back in Pankow, Caroline, a lawyer and a long-time SPD voter said she was considering voting for the more left-wing die Linke because she did not want to give her ballot to Schulz.

“There is something about him, he is not straightforward and he is too much like the CDU," she continues. "As the head of the EU Parliament, Schulz was good but I don’t think he has what it takes to tackle issues in Germany."

For Ulrike Queissner, also a Pankow resident, the SPD’s lurch to the centre convinced her to vote for die Linke: “The SPD has become mainstream and part of the establishment. It has become too close to the CDU and has no strong position anymore.”

Stable at about 8 per cent in the polls, die Linke is still trailing the extreme-right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), which is anticipated to win between 8 and 11 per cent of votes. This means it would enter the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the first time, becoming its third biggest party.

At the core of die Linke’s manifesto is the redistribution of wealth, a peaceful foreign policy and measures to stamp out the remaining social rift between east and west Germany.  

The party strives to challenge Merkel’s feel-good slogans by putting the spotlight on the discrepancies between rich and poor, and east and west.

 “When we look around to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and maybe even to the UK, we seem happy," says Liebich. "We don’t have an exit [from the EU] debate or a high unemployment rate. And yet, there is a part of Germany that sees that things are not going so well."

And for some of die Linke’s eastern electorate, immigration is at the top of the list of grievances, putting pressure on a party which has always defended an open door-policy – something Liebich acknowledges.

“In Berlin a majority of voters say they are open to people who need help, but in the eastern states, where we have a high unemployment rate and a lot of people who are not used to living with people of other cultures, there is a lot of anger."

That will add to concerns that large numbers of silent AfD supporters could create a surprise in the traditionally left-wing area of east Germany, where the far-right party is capitalising on the anti-immigration sentiment. The left seems to be squeezed between Merkel’s move to the centre ground and the AfD’s growing populist threat.

For Neugebauer the prospect of AfD members in parliament should force left-wing parties to sharpen their political lines, and form a consensus bloc against the rising extreme-right. The silver lining lies in the hope that all three left-wing parties – die Linke, die Grünen and die SPD – find themselves together in the opposition.

“Then, there would be an opportunity to start a conversation about what the parties have in common and start working together," he says. "It would be a chance for the German left to find itself again and create a vision for co-operation.” 

And yet, commentators still anticipate that at least some part of the left will end up working with Merkel, either through a grand coalition with the SPD or a three-way “Jamaica coalition”, with the pro-business FDP and the Greens. For the German left the time for cooperation, and a shot at taking charge of Germany's future, may still be some years away.