GOP in Michigan & Arizona: 3 things to know

Santorum vies for Mitt's home state, spoiler Democrats campaign for Paul.

Today's polling shows a close race for the Republican candidates in Michigan: PPP and WeAskAmerica each have the current frontrunner Mitt Romney leading by 2 and 4 points in the state primary, while the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone poll has his nearest rival Rick Santorum +2 ahead.

Arizona, a state that is home to a significant Mormon population, is expected to be won by the former Massachusetts governor: the polls give Romney a 13-16 point lead on Santorum.

Most tellingly, however, an overall Republican nominee race poll commissioned by Gallup on Sunday showed Romney ahead by a mere two points (Santorum 29, Romney 31, Gingrich 15, Paul 11); today a Politico poll switches this, giving Santorum the slim lead (Santorum 36, Romney 34, Gingrich 13, Paul 7).

The state of Michigan offers 30 delegate votes, awarded proportionally in relation to the state's 14 congressional districts. Likewise, Arizona has 29 delegates up for grabs. The Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has not campaigned at all in the Great Lake state, while Ron Paul appeared there only in the last three days.

1) Lose-lose for Romney in home state?

Over at the New York Daily News, Jonathan Lemire argues that whether or not Romney wins Michigan -- the state in which he was born and his father George W. Romney was a governor -- the outcome of tomorrow's primary could be a disaster for his campaign:

If he loses, the defeat would be devastating and could destroy his campaign.

A narrow victory, which the polls now suggest, would open Romney to a slew of questions about why he had such trouble banking a win on his home turf.

And even if he prevails in a rout, his positions and recent rhetoric that appeal to right-wing Michigan voters -- particularly on the auto industry bailout -- may cost him the swing state in November.

Rick Klein at ABC News has a similar warning; that Romney's challenges are growing rather than shrinking as the primary season develops:

Romney's struggle to close the deal in Michigan, where his family has deep roots and where he cruised to victory four years ago, is underscoring longstanding concerns about his candidacy, in addition to creating new ones.

. . . Besides having to answer questions about whether he's conservative enough, Romney now has to beat back suggestions that he can't connect with blue-collar voters whose support he'd need in the fall. Michigan, with its high unemployment and battered manufacturing base, is filled with the kind of voters whose support will determine the presidency in November.

2) The rhetoric shifts, again

Appealing to voters of modest incomes is exactly the task Santorum set himself over the weekend. In a scathing attack to his rival after a weak performance in the most recent GOP debate, Santorum told conservatives in a suburban neighbourhood of Detroit on Saturday:

I didn't blow in the wind when things were popular with the elite, because I don't come from the elite.

And on Romney's wavering positions over global warming and the deficit, Santorum blasted:

Maybe he doesn't understand what the term "resolute" means. It means that you're supposed to have a resolve or a consistent pattern of beliefs.

That evening, his attack on Obama was bizarrely anti-education -- and according to the Post's Eugene Robinson, "ridiculous, offensive, hypocritical":

President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin at Politico noted that Romney has not been faux pas-free in recent days:

The former Massachusetts governor demonstrated again in a Detroit speech Friday how he can be a political hazard to himself when he veers off-script. Romney's wife, he explained in a state with 9.3 percent unemployment and in a city blighted by abandoned and decaying homes, "drives a couple of Cadillacs."

. . . Part of the front-runner's difficulty closing the deal is plainly a product of his distant, mechanical style. He bursts with specificity and disgorges a dazzling array of numbers, but conservatives aren't brought to their feet by a recitation of just how many Americans work for companies that file their federal taxes as individuals rather than as corporations.

3) Democrats call for Paul; could upset the vote

Perhaps the biggest unknown hanging over Michigan is what role Democrats will play in the "open" primary. With cross-party voters allowed to take to the state's GOP ballot, The Week has rounded up some of the possible outcomes of a Democratic attempt to spoil the race for Romney. The Detroit Free Press also reported today on the Democrat activists hoping to snag some delegates for the libertarian candidate Ron Paul; at this stage rather an outlier in the race, but votes for whom could further weaken Romney's standing as the man to lead the Republican party.

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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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.