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.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.