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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.