Can Newt make a comeback?

He's already done it twice, but can Gingrich come back a third time?

Newt Gingrich may be down, but he's not out yet. Although he trailed in Nevada by 25 per cent of the vote -- making it his second consecutive big loss -- don't write the moral conservative off yet.

Gingrich is hanging on for Super Tuesday on 6 March where 10 states vote at once and almost a fifth of all delegates are decided. The Bible belt is better territory for the Republican candidate and many conservative Southern states like Georgia and Alabama are likely to vote in his favour; the former being his onetime home state with 76 delegates on offer. There are 437 delegates up for grabs in total on Super Tuesday -- a marked contrast to Nevada's 28 and Florida's 50.

In order to hold on until Super Tuesday, Gingrich needs to work on attacking Mitt Romney, capitalising on the reservations many Southern Republicans have about him and his centrist record as governor of Massachusetts. In the Florida primary Newt's strongest region was the Florida Panhandle, which can be seen as a proxy for the Deep South. Moreover, he was also more popular with poorer voters, born-again Christians and evangelical voters -- important factors to remember when predicting how the Bible belt of America will vote. At a press conference in Nevada, Gingrich himself predicted that the conservative Southern states would never vote for a pro-gun control, pro-abortion Massachusetts moderate.

While Gingrich, who was outspent by Romney 5:1 in Florida, may have complained about Ron Paul and Rick Santorum remaining in the race and making it more difficult for him to consolidate the anti-Mitt vote, he may be thanking them in the run up to Super Tuesday. It is possible that both Santorum and Paul could win in caucus states that Romney has more sway in than Gingrich. Santorum is in good stead in Missouri and Minnesota, while Paul holds weight in Colorado.

Wins from Paul or Santorum would undoubtedly weaken Romney's position, thus enabling Newt to swoop in once again and paint himself as the only man who can boot Obama from the White House and ensure that Romney cannot paint his clinching of the Republican nomination as inevitable.

Importantly, Romney's victory in Nevada isn't the storming success he has made it out to be. Romney captured Nevada, which has a large proportion of Mormons, with around 43 per cent of the vote; much lower than the 51 per cent he received in his 2008 campaign. This may be due to his recent comments about not being concerned with the very poor -- a statement that has since been taken wildly out of context but one that Newt can surely use to sully his opponent.

There's no doubt that Newt will face an uphill battle up until Super Tuesday, particularly due to the fact that there are no debates scheduled until 22 February. The former Speaker has shone in the debates, using them as an opportunity to incite grassroots support and, importantly, attack frontrunner Mitt Romney. Many undecided voters warmed to Newt in the debates, especially his infamous rage at CNN's John King in South Carolina, seeing his aggression as the quality that would enable him to triumph over President Obama.

The more Newt can paint Romney as one of "them" as opposed to one of "us" due to his Mormonism and extraordinary wealth, the more chance he has of ensuring that the Republican nomination continues to be a race rather than a coronation. His means of doing this is through debate and it is not unlikely that he will request another with Romney before 22 February. The former House Speaker knows that he cannot lie low for a month and expect miracle success, and with the recent cartoonish blow of Donald Trump endorsing Romney, Gingrich needs to ensure that he remains in primetime news.

Similarly, in the run up to Super Tuesday Newt should outline more concrete policies on tax and national debt, rather than merely saying his conservative policies are strong and courageous as opposed to moderate Mitt's timid proposals. If he can do this he has a good chance of re-engaging the conservative base and proving himself as the only alternative to Romney and his cautious policies, which are unpopular with the Tea Party. Newt needs to talk less about the moon and develop a laser-focussed message targeted at the political and social right.

The former Speaker has vowed not to surrender until the Tampa convention and until then he must keep doing what he does best: fighting. There's no question that his comeback will be hard, but it's not impossible.

Don't count the underdog out just yet.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: How should Labour respond?

The government always gets a boost out of big setpieces. But elections are won over months not days. 

Three days in the political calendar are utterly frustrating for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – the Queen’s Speech, the Budget and the Autumn Statement. No matter how unpopular the government is – and however good you are as an opposition - this day is theirs. The government will dominate the headlines. And played well they will carry the preceding with pre-briefed good news too. You just have to accept that, but without giving in or giving up.

It is a cliche that politics is a marathon not a sprint, but like most cliches that observation is founded in truth. So, how best to respond on the days you can’t win? Go to the fundamentals. And do the thing that oddly is far too little done in responses to budgets or autumn statements – follow the money.

No choices in politics are perfect - they are always trade offs. The art is in balancing compromises not abolishing them. The politics and the values are expressed in the choices that you make in prioritising. This is particularly true in budgets where resources are allocated across geographies - between towns, cities and regions, across time - short term or long term, and across the generations - between young and old. To govern is to choose. And the choices reveal. They show the kind of country the government want to create - and that should be the starting point for the opposition. What kind of Britain will we be in five, ten, fifteen years as these decisions have their ultimate, cumulative impact?

Well we know, we are already living in the early days of it. The Conservative government is creating a country in which there are wealthy pensioners living in large homes they won, while young people who are burdened with debts cannot afford to buy a home. One in which health spending is protected - albeit to a level a third below that of France or Germany – while social care, in an ageing society, is becoming residualised. One where under-regulated private landlords have to fill the gap in the rented market caused by the destruction of the social housing sector.

But description, though, is not sufficient. It is only the foundation of a critique - one that will succeed only if it describes not only the Britain the Tories are building but also the better one that Labour would deliver. Not prosaically in the form of a Labour programme, but inspirationally as the Labour promise.

All criticism of the government – big and little – has to return to this foundational narrative. It should connect everything. And it is on this story that you can anchor an effective response to George Osborne. Whatever the sparklers on the day or the details in the accompanying budgetary documentation, the trajectory is set. The government know where they are going. So do informed commentators. A smart opposition should too. The only people in the dark are the voters. They feel a pinch point here, a cut there, an unease and unfairness everywhere – but they can’t sum it up in words. That is the job of the party that wants to form a government – describing in crisp, consistent and understandable terms what is happening.

There are two traps on the day. The first is narrowcasting - telling the story that pleases you and your closest supporters. In that one the buzzwords are "privatisation" and "austerity". It is the opposite of persuasion aimed, as it is, at insiders. The second is to be dazzled by the big announcements of the day. Labour has fallen down here badly recently. It was obvious on Budget Day that a rise in the minimum wage could not compensate for £12bn of tax credit cuts. The IFS and the Resolution Foundation knew that. So did any adult who could do arithmetic and understood the distributional impact of the National Minimum Wage. It could and should have been Labour that led the charge, but frontbenchers and backbenchers alike were transfixed by the apparent appropriation of the Living Wage. A spot of cynicism always comes in handy. In politics as in life, if something seems to be too good to be true then … it is too good to be true.

The devil may be in the detail, but the error is in the principle – that can be nailed on the day. Not defeated or discredited immediately, but the seeds planted.  

And, if in doubt, take the government at their word. There is no fiercer metric against which to measure the Tories than their own rhetoric. How can the party of working people cut the incomes of those who have done the right thing? How can the party who promised to protect the health service deliver a decade of the lowest ever increases in spending? How can the party of home ownership banish young people to renting? The power in holding a government to account is one wielded forensically and eloquently for it is in the gap between rhetoric and reality that ordinary people’s lives fall.

The key fact for an opposition is that it can afford to lose the day if it is able to win the argument. That is Labour’s task.