Q&A: Super Tuesday

Your guide to the GOP contests happening across the US on Tuesday.

Q. Which states are holding GOP primaries or caucuses tomorrow, and how many delegates does each state award?
Alaska, 27 delegates
Idaho, 32 delegates
North Dakota, 28 delegates

Georgia, 76 delegates
Massachusetts, 41 delegates
Ohio, 66 delegates
Oklahoma, 43 delegates
Tennessee, 58 delegates
Vermont, 17 delegates
Virginia, 49 delegates

Q. How many delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday?
437 delegates are in play.

Q. Where do the candidates stand going into tomorrow's primaries and caucuses?
Mitt Romney - 203 delegates
Rick Santorum - 92 delegates
Newt Gingrich - 33 delegates
Ron Paul - 25 delegates

Q. How many delegates are needed to secure the GOP nomination?
1,144 delegates are needed to win the party's nomination.

Q. Why does Super Tuesday matter so much?
Super Tuesday matters for different candidates depending on their position in the delegate count. The longer the GOP nomination process rolls on, the less time the eventual candidate has for the general election election, and for this reason, 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. Santorum has been surging over the past month - although he has lost momentum of late - and hopes to continue his charge tomorrow.

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. Candidates distant in the delegate count have historically viewed Super Tuesday as an opportunity to make up serious ground.

Q. Why do so many states (10) choose to have their primaries on the same day?
Early primary states have more sway in determining the nominee than do later ones. Candidates spend enormous amounts of time and money in Iowa - the first caucus - and New Hampshire, the first primary. States after New Hampshire and Iowa have historically had less and less impact the farther into the election process they have voted. Over the last two decades, states have been moving their primaries and caucuses earlier and earlier in order to have more impact on the nominating process.

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.

Q. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were on ballots on Super Tuesday 2008 (5 February). How did each fare four years ago?
Romney won 7 states (176 delegates). Of the states voting tomorrow, Romney carried Alaska, Massachusetts and North Dakota in 2008.

Paul did not win any contests four years ago.

*John McCain won 9 states (511 delegates) and Mike Huckabee won 5 states (147 delegates)

Q. Which are the key battleground states tomorrow?
Georgia, the state awarding the most delegates, is very much up for grabs. Newt Gingrich was a US House representative from that state 1979 to 1999, and could see a very strong showing there.

Ohio - seminally a battleground state in general elections, particularly in 2004 Kerry versus Bush - will be telling. With the question of general election electability being more and more tossed around, and with the GOP looking to find its best candidate for the November general election, Ohio's primary results will be crucial.

Ron Paul faces only one ballot opponent - Mitt Romney - in Virginia's primary. None of the other candidates collected the 10,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot.

Newt Gingrich could have a strong showing in Tennessee, another of the big southern states that vote tomorrow.

Idaho is one of the most conservative states in the US, and Gingrich and Santorum could both fare well there.

Q. What will the possible results tell us?
Newt Gingrich has pledged to stay in the race until the convention. His results in the more conservative states will tell us how appealing he is to the Conservative Right.

Mitt Romney is no stranger to Super Tuesday, and has to like his position this time around. Tomorrow will tell us whether Romney will be able to hold off charges from his more conservative counterparts and further separate himself from the pack.

Rick Santorum has surged into second place, and his results tomorrow will be crucial. He could emerge atop the delegate leaderboard or could fall well behind Romney. For Santorum, like Gingrich, courting the Conservative Right vote will be crucial.

Ron Paul continues to raise large amounts of cash despite having not won a primary or caucus. The future of his campaign should become clearer after tomorrow's contests.

Q. Which states follow Super Tuesday?
Over the week following Super Tuesday, Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, the US Virgin Islands and Guam hold caucuses and primaries, with 165 combined delegates up for grabs.

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Why is it getting harder to report on Israel-Palestine?

The politics of the conflict are changing – and with them, the diplomatic and journalistic challenge.

Throughout the centuries, Jerusalem’s Old City has drawn pilgrims, tourists, and conquerors. This week it has been the focus of renewed media attention after a series of violent incidents.  For those ties of history, politics, and faith which link it to the rest of the world have also made it a magnet for reporters: some admired, more abused or admonished.     

Last summer, Israel’s international image took a beating. Some two thousand Palestinians – the overwhelming majority of them civilians, according to the United Nations – were killed during the Israeli Army’s operation in Gaza. Israeli casualties – at more than 70, almost all of them military personnel – had been far higher than in other incursions into Gaza in recent years. 

As the dust settled above the flattened buildings, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave a news conference specifically aimed at the foreign press.

It was aimed at them in that they were both the audience, and the target. Mr Netanyahu said, “I expect, now that the members of the press are leaving Gaza, or some of them are leaving Gaza, and are no longer subjected to Hamas restrictions and intimidations, I expect we’ll see even more documentation of Hamas terrorists hiding behind the civilian population, exploiting civilian targets.”

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz challenged Mr Netanyahu’s claim in a story headlined “Foreign Press: Hamas Didn't Censor Us in Gaza, They Were Nowhere to Be Found”. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor echoed this when we spoke for my new book, Headlines from the Holy Land. “They’re all hiding,” he remembered of his experience of Hamas during that that conflict. “They had a spokesman who hung out at Shifa hospital. And he was very much a spokesman. He didn’t tell us what to do.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been covered by countless words and hours of airtime. It has also exhausted extensive diplomatic resources seeking to solve it. The diplomatic desert seems almost to have led to a situation where PR is a substitute for policy. Take Mr Netanyahu’s attempts, above, to rubbish reporting. Earlier this year, the Israeli Foreign Ministry posted, and later removed, a cartoon sneering at, and patronising, the foreign press. Why bother with politics, when you can poke fun?

The politics, though, are changing – and with them, the diplomatic challenge.

Religion is playing a growing role. Daniel Kurtzer was United States ambassador to Tel Aviv 2001-2005. He was also there as a diplomat in the 1980s. Then, he remembers “a fostering of the idea of Islamism as an antidote to nationalism. The natural consequence of that was and has been the growth of religious feelings, so certainly on the Palestinian side that’s the case, but it’s even now grown on the Israeli side”. He concludes: “I haven’t seen any success yet in integrating this move towards religion into the diplomacy of trying to resolve the conflict. It’s a real challenge.”

It is a challenge for correspondents, too – and their efforts are rarely admired. Shortly before the bloodshed in Gaza began, the head of Israel’s government press office, Nitzan Chen, shared with me his opinion of foreign correspondents in Israel. “Like the Israeli journalists, they are cynical, critical. I don’t want to make generalisations because some people are very professional and very unique, see the facts before they write the story. But the majority are lazy.”

Anyone covering the conflict needs a thick skin, and sometimes more. In addition to the risks involved in covering all armed conflict, conversations with Palestinian journalists will often quickly uncover stories of harassment and threats of violence from armed groups. 

The brevity of daily news stories means they rarely have room for discussion of religion, or   competing historical narratives. Yet, for all its shortcomings, real and imagined, the journalism of the Israeli-Palestinian press is most people’s only source of information about a conflict which has connections to so many parts of the world. If it were not important, presumably the protagonists would not waste time criticising it.      

James Rodgers is the author of Headlines from the Holy Land: Reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, just published by Palgrave MacMillan. He was the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza from 2002-2004. James will be taking part in a panel discussion next week at City University London. You can register to attend here