GOP round-up: 5 things we learned

Endorsements, gaffes and delegates from another week of the Republican candidate race.

Mitt Romney's convincing win in the Florida primary on Tuesday has put him firmly back in front of the race for Republican presidential nominee. Yet as John Stoehr noted on Wednesday, the GOP's new rules for candidates mean that unless the three other hopefuls run out of money in the next month, Barack Obama's opponent for November may not be named until March. Before then hundreds of delegate votes are up for grabs, with the Nevada and Maine caucuses taking place tomorrow (4 February), Colorado and Minnesota caucuses on the 7th, primaries for Arizona and Michigan on the 18th, the Washington state caucus on 3 March, and Super Tuesday, this year falling on 6 March.

The New Statesman's Republican primary tracker is tabulating the share of delegates so far, but here's a round up of recent developments in the race for which Romney and Newt Gingrich -- plus Ron Paul and Rick Santorum -- are still running.

1) The Donald Trump endorsement

On Thursday the billionaire real estate magnate and TV celebrity Donald Trump annouced his endorsement for Mitt Romney, as the man who's "not going to allow bad things to happen to this country that we all love."

 

On Tuesday, Trump (a former possible GOP candidate himself) told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that "in a very short time [he'd] be making an endorsement," though up until the moment his citation was unclear. Reports before the announcement suggested Trump's backing would go to former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich; two members of the Gingrich campaign even confirmed the rumours Wednesday evening.

But what's it worth for Romney? A poll by the Washington Post/Pew Center at the beginning of the year showed 64 per cent of voters would not be effected in their decision by Trump's endorsement; 20 per cent said they would be less likely to vote with Trump, and 13 per cent said they would be more likely to back his candidate. And as CNN's Alyssa McLendon notes, today's endless TV coverage and online debate over the merit of candidates means "voters feel they have more than enough information to make up their own minds," without being swayed by the mutual self-congratulation of politicians and public figures.

2) Romney's "not concerned about the very poor"

Until now he may not have been GOP's king of the gaffe (his sympathetic "I'm also unemployed" was possibly the worst), but Romney has certainly been called up on Wednesday's comment during a CNN television interview that he was "not concerned about the very poor" because they have an "ample safety net."

 

Campaigning in Hannibal, Missouri today, Rick Santorum said Romney's comment "sort of sent a chill down my spine as a conservative and a Republican . . . I want to belong to a party that focuses on 100 percent of Americans and creating opportunity for every single one." Gingrich took a plainer line yesterday, saying: "I really believe that we should care about the very poor, unlike Governor Romney . . . What the poor need is a trampoline so that they can spring up."

The Democractic National Committee got in the fastest, creating an attack ad around the comment in less than a day:

 

3) Who's in the money?

This week the Federal Election Commission released its donation data showing the half a million external contributions received by the campaigns of 2012 presidential hopefuls until December 2011. Obama raised $140m; Romney -- $56.5m; Newt Gingrich -- $12.7m; Ron Paul -- $25.5m, and Rick Santorum -- $3.3m.

Interestingly, the data also showed the sectors and professions of the donors, revealing that Romney's campaign received money from fewer, wealthier individuals and proportionally more corporations, whilst Obama's funding came largely from many small donations. The president's super PAC donations were made largely by individuals connected to Hollywood and labour unions.

4) Newt's still rooting on the moon

Despite dwindling funds, the Rick Santorum campaign has used $100,000 on national conservative radio ads to play over the next week. "Out of this world" urges potential Gingrich voters and Tea Partiers to back Santorum, "the one true conservative that can stop Romney and defeat Obama." The ad addresses the former House Speaker's support of the Wall Street bailout, his "radical healthcare mandates" and -- possibly his easiest target -- Gingrich's proposed $100 billion lunar colony.

 

5) There's 46 states remaining

As Newt's placards remind us, only four US states have voted for their Republican nominee so far; that's 103 delegates out of a total 2,286, with candidates needing a minimum 1,144 delegate votes to secure the nomination.

 

On Super Tuesday alone, the southern states of Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia -- where Gingrich typically fairs best and his strategy is largely focussed -- offer 226 delegates; over twice the number already awarded.

In a poll by Facebook/Politico in Nevada yesterday, 81 per cent of voters said they will not be influenced by the result of the Florida primary; only 8 per cent said it would effect their vote and 7 per cent said it might.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.