Psyched for Super Tuesday!

Raffaello Pantucci attempts to unpick the significance of Super Tuesday for the Democrats, the Repub

So, is everyone excited by Super Tuesday, or maybe you prefer Tsunami Tuesday, or Giga Tuesday, or the imperious Tuesday of Destiny?

To those who have managed to avoid the fevered American pre-election election, the real answer to all of these questions might be what exactly is this epoch sounding day that is steadily taking the American media cycle hostage?

Whichever name you prefer, the Tuesday in mind is 5 February, when 22 states on the Democratic side and 21 states on the Republican will hold either their primaries or caucuses to choose their parties nominees for the candidacy.

Amongst these states are the delegate-rich New York and California, both highly populous states that send large numbers of delegates to the national party conventions (that will be held respectively for the Democrats in Denver, Colorado on August 25-28 and for the Republicans on September 1-4 in St. Paul, Minnesota). In precise numbers it is somewhat hard to ascertain exactly what percentage of the delegates sent will theoretically be chosen on February 5, but a healthy estimate would place the figure at around 40%.

The hope in both parties must be that by the time titanic Tuesday rolls around the wheat will have firmly been separated from the chaff, and the parties will have at last have some better clarity about who the respective nominees are.

Unfortunately for the now knackered nominees - but doubtless much to the glee of political pundits and operatives - the field remains relatively open and unclear on both sides.

While on the Democratic side, it would seem as though it has been whittled down to a two-way race between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, it would be unseemly to completely discount Senator Edwards, who is coming up to face his moment of truth in his home state of South Carolina (the next state to hold its primary vote on the Democratic side on January 26).

On the Republican side, however, the race would still seem to be very much for the taking. While Duncan Hunter (who he?) may have decided this weekend that he had finally had enough, the fact that Governor Huckabee, Senator McCain, and Governor Romney have all notched up primary wins so far means that theoretically any of them could try to build some momentum to swing the nomination.

And this doesn’t even start to take into account Mayor-for-America Rudy Giuliani whose entire campaign strategy has apparently been based upon success in Florida (though some more scrupulous pundits have done the numbers and calculated that Giuliani ran more events in New Hampshire than Senator McCain, and was third in spending on television ads in the state – neither of these are facts that would seem to be reflected in his final numbers in the state where he came a distant fourth).

But the mention of Florida in fact raises another confusing wrinkle in this pre-election election calendar, and that is while both parties actually hold their primaries on Tuesday, it is theoretically only the Republican ones that will count.

In retribution for the “race to the start” that states launched into last year to try to push themselves higher on the primary calendar (hoping no doubt to profit from the attention and money that would inevitably be lavished in the early states), the Democratic party punished Florida by docking all its delegates – while the more magnanimous Republican party instead only docked half of the state's delegates (it is worth pointing out that this has also happened in some of the other states who moved their primaries forwards in contravention to national party dictats, only further confusing things).

Still, a sweep of the state by Hillary ( the current front-runner on the Democratic side), will no doubt not hurt the gradual sense of momentum that is building in her campaign. However, on the Republican side, a particularly bad performance by Rudy “9/11” Giuliani may be the nail in the coffin of his hopes – while he has successfully played down his efforts in New Hampshire, his campaign has made a substantial song-and-dance about what he has been doing in Florida.

But all of this is only further evidence of how scattered both of the parties nominations remain. As stated before, on the Democratic side it seems as though it is a two-header with Obama and Hillary with Edwards a poor third, but the fight between the top two remains tense, with the electioneering degenerating to questions of who can win ‘the female,’ ‘the black,’ or ‘the Hispanic’ vote (different states have different proportions, and both leaders have campaigned that they own what would be seen as the other’s natural constituency, leading to absurd notions like Hillary is “blacker” than Obama – and conversely I suppose - that Obama is more of a woman than Hilary…).

On the Republican side, while it seems a fight between Romney (the establishment Republican nominee) and McCain (whose centrist appeal is a real potential threat to the Democrats), it would be foolish to completely discount the Huck’s hokey appeal to the Christian Right (for whom a choice between an apostate Mormon and McCain is a nightmarish prospect); Giuliani’s ultra-neo-con 9/11 fuelled celebrity; and even Fred Thompson’s why-the-hell-not effort. For that matter, Ron Paul should not be completely jettisoned either, proving to be a surprisingly effective libertarian candidate (who has in fact come even or beaten Giuliani in a number of primaries).

Suffice to say by the time we reach the post-Super-Duper-Tsunami-Tuesday, it is likely that nothing will be any clearer than it is now. We may finally see the Democratic side slimmed down to two, but on the Republican side, we may see a widely divided field that will allow three or more campaigns taking sufficient states to carry them on.

What happens after that will be a vicious scrap for the remaining states with both sides trying to raise their delegate tallies ahead of the conventions, a fact that is starting to worry party leaders on the Democratic side in particular who worry that a too close race to the end could end up with a cleaving in two of the party as dirty politics make the two sides irreconcilable. And to think we haven’t even gotten to the general election yet…

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hopep to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.