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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US election 2016: Trump threatens to deny democracy

When asked if he would accept the result of the election, the reality TV star said that he would have to “keep you in suspense.”

During this insane bad-acid-trip of an election campaign I have overused the phrase “let that sink in.”

There have been at least two dozen moments in the last 18 months which I have felt warranted a moment of horrified contemplation, a moment to sit and internalise the insanity of what is happening. That time a candidate for president brought up his penis size in a primary election debate, for one.

But there was a debate last night, and one of the protagonists threatened to undermine democracy in the United States of America, which throws the rest of this bizarre campaign into stark relief.

It was the third and final clash between an experienced if arguably politically problematic former senator and secretary of state – Hillary Clinton –  and a reality TV star accused of a growing number of sexual assaults – Donald Trump – but the tone and content of the debate mattered less than what the latter said at one key, illuminating moment.

That statement was this: asked if he would accept the result of the election, Donald Trump said that he was going to “look at it at the time,” and that he would have to “keep you in suspense.”

If your jaw just hit the floor, you have responded correctly. The candidate for the party of Lincoln, the party of Reagan, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, declined to uphold the most fundamental keystone of American democracy, which is to say, the peaceful transition of power.

Let that sink in. Let it sit; let it brew like hot, stewed tea.

This election has been historic in a vast number of ways, most important of which is that it will be, if current polling is to be believed, the election which will bring America's first female president to the White House, almost a century after women's suffrage was enabled by the 19th amendment to the constitution in August 1920.

If the last near-century for women in America has been a journey inexorably towards this moment, slowly chipping away at glass ceiling after glass ceiling, like the progression of some hellish video game, then Donald Trump is as fitting a final boss as it could be possible to imagine.

For Trump, this third and final debate in Las Vegas was do-or-die. His challenge was near-insurmountable for even a person with a first-class intellect, which Trump does not appear to possess, to face. First, he needed to speak in such a way as to defend his indefensible outbursts about women, not to mention the increasing number of allegations of actual sexual assault, claims backstopped by his own on-tape boasting of theoretical sexual assault released last month.

This, he failed to do, alleging instead that the growing number of sexual assault allegations against him are being fabricated and orchestrated by Clinton's campaign, which he called “sleazy”, at one point to actual laughs from the debate audience.

But he also needed to reach out to moderates, voters outside his base, voters who are not electrified by dog-whistle racism and lumbering misogyny. He tried to do this, using the Wikileaks dump of emails between Democratic party operators as a weapon. But that weapon is fatally limited, because ultimately not much is in the Wikileaks email dumps, really, except some slightly bitchy snark of the kind anyone on earth's emails would have and one hell of a recipe for risotto.

In the debate, moderator Chris Wallace admirably held the candidates to a largely more substantive, policy-driven debate than the two previous offerings – a fact made all the more notable considering that he was the only moderator of the three debates to come from Fox News – and predictably Trump floundered in the area of policy, choosing instead to fall back on old favourites like his lean-into-the-mic trick, which he used at one point to mutter “nasty woman” at Clinton like she'd just cut him off in traffic.

Trump was more subdued than the bombastic lummox to which the American media-consuming public have become accustomed, as if his new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway had dropped a couple of Xanax into his glass of water before he went on stage. He even successfully managed to grasp at some actual Republican talking-points – abortion, most notably – like a puppy who has been semi-successfully trained not to make a mess on the carpet.

He also hit his own favourite campaign notes, especially his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - but ultimately his intrinsic Donald Trumpiness couldn't stop itself from blazing through.

Remember the Republican primary debate when Trump refused to say that he would accept the party's nominee if it wasn't him? Well, he did it again: except this time, the pledge he refused to take wasn't an internal party matter; it was two centuries of American democratic tradition chucked out of the window like a spent cigarette. A pledge to potentially ignore the result of an election, given teeth by weeks of paranoiac ramblings about voter fraud and rigged election systems, setting America up for civil unrest and catastrophe, driving wedges into the cracks of a national discourse already strained with unprecedented polarisation and spite.

Let it, for what is hopefully just one final time, sink in.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.