Super Tuesday: 5 things to watch

The most decisive day yet in the Republican candidates' race for the White House.

Yesterday we posted a Q&A guide to the Super Tuesday procedure. As a recap:

Super Tuesday is the first real test of a candidate's popularity nationwide, and thus many states choose to hold their primary or caucus on that day, in order to play a part in the electability test.

Mitt Romney hopes a strong showing will all but seal the deal for him. For Rick Santorum, Super Tuesday is an opportunity to catch or overtake Romney in the delegate count, or at least take a large chunk out of Romney's lead. For Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, sitting in distant third and fourth place, Super Tuesday, with its hundreds of delegates up for grabs, is an opportunity for both candidates to make upward moves.

Caucuses (3 states): Alaska, 27 delegates; Idaho, 32 delegates; North Dakota, 28 delegates

Primaries (7 states): Georgia, 76 delegates; Massachusetts, 41 delegates; Ohio, 66 delegates; Oklahoma, 43 delegates; Tennessee, 58 delegates; Vermont, 17 delegates; Virginia, 49 delegates

437 delegates are in play; 1,144 are needed to win the party's nomination

Click here to see the votes each candidate has already won

And here's our picks of what to look out for today, and tomorrow morning, as the numbers start to trickle in and the delegate counts pile up, one way or another:

1) Who bags Ohio?

With the second largest block of votes available -- and a high possiblity of the winner-takes-all allocation -- Ohio is today's vital state. Of all 50, it is one of the most politically divided and therefore a hot swing-state come the presidential race in November. As Ohio's residents take to the ballot boxes Romney has the momentum, but four polls show him ahead within the margin of error, and at this stage the 66 votes are not certainly his to call.

Also, as an "open" primary, Ohio's Democrats and Independent voters could take to the polls in an attempt to muddy Republican wishes. That said, the reported surge of Democrats voting for Rick Santorum in Michigan last week did not stop frontrunner Romney comfortably taking the state.

2) The Rick Santorum appeal

Come November if he is to have any feasible shot at the White House, Rick Santorum needs to start broadening his appeal among America's vast demographics. Unsurprisingly, today's southern states Oklahoma and Tennessee -- with their Conservative politics and large evangelical populations -- are inching towards Santorum.

Yet Rick's identity as a man who lives and breathes by his faith -- as well as being politically informed by it -- does not actually appear to be working for him. Exit polls from earlier states show Santorum has lost the Catholic vote in every primary; despite his frequent talk about his upbringing within the Church. His recent backtracking on last week's JFK-vomit comment may be some attempt to appease voters who are particularly sensitive about the assassinated president -- the country's first Catholic commander-in-chief.

3) Gingrich strong at home

The former House Speaker's bumpy campaign has tailed off in recent weeks, though Newt is cruising to a victory in his home state of Georgia. A majority share of the largest single chunk of delegates available today will help the Gingrich campaign, but he will have to come at least second in states besides Oklahoma and Tennessee to hang on in the race much longer.

4) The female vote

As Sam Youngman noted, Mitt Romney has drawn on his Michigan game plan for Super Tuesday by appealing to blue-collar workers and women for their votes:

At every event, with an eye on winning women voters, Romney had his popular wife, Ann, whip up the crowds and emphasize Romney's private-sector experience. Ann Romney called her husband a "turnaround guy."

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has stuck fast to social issues for some time now; campaigning on faith and contraception over the larger, immediate concern for most Americans: the economy. The success of either man with female voters is hard to predict.

5) What the turnout says of the GOP

Over at Politico, Maggie Haberman points out the race's lingering narrative:

. . . one that began in Iowa and has continued through much of the cycle so far -- the reduced number of voters in some of the primaries and caucuses. A number of analysts have suggested it's clear evidence of an enthusiasm gap -- an idea that seems true in some states but not in others.

Early in the day, Virginia appears to be one of such places. Many towns in the east coast state have reported a painfully slow start to the day and very low enthuasism among self-defining Republicans. In Ohio, too, early voting stands at a third of what it was in the 2008 primary.

Patricia Zengerle's report at the Huffington Post gives some idea of the ways in which the GOP candidates' ever-intensifying rhetoric is turning off their own voters:

[Colleen Wilson] had planned to vote for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney because of his business experience and ideas for fixing the U.S. economy, but said inflammatory rhetoric at CPAC made her wonder if she could vote for any of the party's candidates this year.

"It scares me how extreme they are on social conservatism," she said. "It wasn't that they didn't believe in gay marriage. It was how vicious and closed minded they were."

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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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.