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21 January 2008updated 05 Oct 2023 8:16am

Psyched for Super Tuesday!

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

By Raffaello Pantucci

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.

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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.

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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…