US “Super Tuesday” primary elections to watch

Contests include CEOs fighting to lead California and tests for the conservative Tea Party movement.

With primary elections being held in ten states, 8 June is the most significant election day in the US until general election day in November. Today, voters are selecting Democratic and Republican candidates who will face each other on 2 November.

Although typically a smaller percentage of the American public votes in the primaries than in the general election, they will be a key indicator of the reaction to the Democrats after Barack Obama's first year in office. Polls show that there has been a clear backlash against the perception of big government spending, especially after the passage of the trillion-dollar federal health-care bill in March.

The primaries so far have also been a test for the "Tea Party" movement, which seeks to nominate right-wing Republican candidates. In some races, this has led to a split, with the official Republican establishment candidate pitted against a "Tea Party" Republican.

Here are some of the key elections:

Nevada

An unexpected boost in support for the Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle, has rocketed her from single-digit support to the lead spot, over the GOP establishment candidate, Sue Lowden.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, the Democratic candidate in the race, has been lagging in the polls, and until recently was expected to lose his seat. The nomination of Angle overnight puts Reid in a much better position in November, as far-right Angle has a smaller war chest and is viewed as the weakest Republican candidate in a primary field of 13 candidates.

The Tea Party movement has excited and mobilised the Republican grass roots. However, if its candidates prove unelectable, the party may die down by November.

Arkansas

The dethroning of incumbents has been a key story this primary season. Two incumbent candidates have been ousted in primary elections so far this year: the Republican-to-Democratic Party-switcher Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania and the Republican Bob Bennett of Utah both failed to gain their party's nomination.

Today, there could be a third upset in the state of Arkansas. The Democratic incumbent candidate, Senator Blanche Lincoln, has been battling the effects of a reverse Tea Party effect. Lincoln has been viewed as too conservative by some Democratic Party supporters, and was forced into a run-off that is taking place on Tuesday. She faced opposition on the left from trade unions after she opposed a key component of the health-care bill.

Lt Gov Bill Halter came out of nowhere to challenge Lincoln in the runoff, after scooping up union campaign money.

California

In California, the fight for the Republican nomination turned into an expensive duel between a billionaire and a millionaire. The eventual general election winner in November will succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor and inherit a budget deficit of $17bn.

The former head of eBay, Meg Whitman, is seeking the Republican nomination. The billionaire has poured in an extraordinary $71m of her own money into her campaign -- which has cost $80m in total. She is expected to defeat her fellow Republican and former businessman Steve Poizner, a state insurance commissioner, who has spent $24m of his own money.

While Whitman and Poizner are competing to be the most ideologically conservative candidate, another overriding concern is wooing undecided voters in a state that is more liberal than many others in the country.

The Republican nominee will face the 72-year-old Democratic candidate, Jerry Brown, in November. If Brown wins he would be both the youngest and the oldest person to have served as senator for California: he first held the same office 40 years ago.

South Carolina

The story in South Carolina's primary is less about trends and money than plain old dirty politics. The front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor, Nikki Haley, has been accused of infidelity and called a "raghead" by a Republican state senator.

Haley, the first Sikh American to hold state office in South Carolina, is seeking to succeed Mark Sanford, the Republican governor infamous for disappearing for days, before finally admitting he had fled to Argentina and had had an affair.

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder