Super Tuesday: 5 things we learned

Here's where the GOP stand after another ten states choose their Republican candidate.

Earlier this week, the former First Lady Barbara Bush called the 2012 Republican race "the worst campaign I've ever seen in my life". Today's New York Times leading article agrees, noting that even with last night's Super Tuesday results counted, the dirty race continues to drag on:

Republican voters will have to go on for some time choosing between a candidate, Mitt Romney, who stands for nothing except country-club capitalism, and a candidate, Rick Santorum, so blinkered by his ideology that it's hard to imagine him considering any alternative ideas or listening to any dissenting voice.

So where does this long drawn-out process for the GOP to nominate a presidential candidate for November stand? Here's five things to take from last night and note in the coming weeks:

1) Mitt continues to struggle in the South

The frontrunner Romney lost South Carolina to Gingrich in January, and yesterday Newt took his home state of Georgia, while Santorum won Tennessee. Romney has a sizeable lead in the delegate count, but has not yet won over southern voters. It's not enough that these conservative Americans backed John McCain in 2008: Romney needs to make gains off his own personality and politics.

2) Evangelical votes could yet boost Rick

Santorum's success with conservative evangelical voters could help him make up some ground over the next week. Three of the four states holding primaries or caucuses in the coming week -- Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi -- hold 130 delegate votes between them and are of this demographic. It's now almost a certainty there won't be a Republican nominee until June.

3) Ron Paul keeps things interesting

Despite having yet to win a contest, Ron Paul continues to receive enough votes to keep things interesting. He finished in second place -- ahead of Romney -- in North Dakota, second in Vermont and in half the contests received more votes than Newt Gingrich. Should Paul leave the race soon, his not-insignificant fan base will be migrating towards another candidate, which could play out in various ways.

4) Was Ohio Mitt's coup?

This swing-state come November was an absolutely critical win for Romney. Had Santorum taken that state, he would have received an enormous momentum boost. Yet Romney's success comes with warnings: exit polls show he continues to struggle with working-class voters, evangelicals and those described as "very conservative". And with the Romney campaign spending four times that of Santorum's, a 15,000 vote margin is only barely good enough.

(As an aside, four years ago Hillary Clinton won the Ohio primary, only to go on to lose the nomination to Barack Obama who took the state in the Presidential election.)

5) GOP flailings are great for the President

Unsurprisingly (see Bush, above), the GOP race is doing little to soften the party around the edges. As I reported yesterday, the reduced turnout of voters in the primaries shows a clear gap of enthusiasm for the Republican party amongst their own people. Now new polling by Pew shows that the dirty battle between candidates is directly helping their rivals: Democrats, turned off by Romney &co. and rallying behind the president. As the New York Times writes:

A new Pew Research poll shows that 3 in 10 voters say their opinion of the Republicans has worsened during the primaries. Among Democrats, 49 percent said watching the primaries have made them more likely to vote for Mr. Obama. That is up from 36 percent in December, which shows that Mr. Obama has risen as the Republicans have fallen.

Still, it's eight months until the big election day, and the NYT leader notes, "the president, who can be frustratingly inert at times, still has a long way to go".

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.