Guest slot: Ben Surtees previews Tsunami Tuesday

Guest slot: Ben Surtees previews Tsunami Tuesday

    So will we be any wiser on Wednesday?

US election logo jp.JPGSuper Tuesday, Super Duper Tuesday, Giga Tuesday, Tsunami Tuesday, The Tuesday of Destiny, even by the standards of the US media there has been a healthy amount of hyperbole used to describe the string primaries and caucuses being staged on Tuesday Febuary 5th.

To a certain extent, the hype is justified, while primary campaigns since the 1980’s have seen “Super Tuesdays” with many states holding simultaneous primaries or caucuses none have approached the scale we will witness next week.

In total twenty four states will hold party primaries or caucuses (21 Republican contests with 22 for the Democrats), the contest, covering every region of the country, will be a dramatic contrast to the state by state campaigning of the last month and will provide an entirely new test for the candidates in both parties.

The Republicans.
On the Republican side, the party establishment and the media seem ready to anoint John McCain as the nominee. Certainly McCain’s victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida have placed him in a very strong position to clinch his parties’ nomination. However it is worth bearing in mind that the Arizona Senator enjoys little support from key sections of the Republican base and this has been reflected in the slenderness of McCain’s early victories.

Yet, despite conservative grassroots opposition to McCain, no candidate has emerged to successfully challenge him.

Mitt Romney’s poor performance in Iowa and New Hampshire seriously hampered his campaign from the off and while he was able to remain in contention, defeat last week to McCain in Florida and deteriorating poll number across the ‘Super Tuesday’ states could have dealt a fatal blow to his campaign, which is already scaling back it’s campaigning prior to Feb 5.

For Mike Huckabee, the preacher turned two term governor of Arkansas, the appeal to evangelical voters and especially the ‘home schooling’ lobby which secured his strong win in Iowa has not been repeated. Further more, the former Governor’s failure to expand his base of support beyond the religious right has seen him drift out of contention everywhere but the Deep South.

For the Republicans then, Super Tuesday could well confirm their presumptive nominee, McCain is well placed to secure victories in all the major states being contested and, with Romney struggling to regain traction and Huckabee largely marginalised, it seems likely that McCain will emerge from ‘Super Tuesday’ with a decisive edge in delegates that will provide a clear route to his party’s nomination.

The Democrats. While for the Republicans ‘Super Tuesday’ seems likely to effectively crown the party’s presumptive nominee, the race on the Democrat side seems far less clear cut. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama boast huge financial resources (Obama raised in excess of $30million in January alone!) and have succeeded in recovering from early setbacks, in a seesaw race which saw first Clinton’s third place finish in Iowa and then her surprise revival in New Hampshire before Obama’s landslide victory in South Carolina.

For Obama, the seesaw nature of the Democratic contest seems to have been beneficial, firmly establishing the junior Illinois Senator as a credible national candidate in the eyes of many. In contrast, Clinton has perhaps fared less well from the Democratic race’s unpredictability with both herself and her husband courting controversy through their campaign’s tactics that has revived some of the worst memories of their time in office. But, despite what has been a good week for Obama and a less encouraging one for Clinton, neither candidate enters ‘Super Tuesday’ with any significant overarching advantage.

Critically, in contrast to many of the Republican contest on ‘Super Tuesday’ delegates for the Democrats are awarded proportionally. As a result both Obama and Clinton have regions, states even individual congressional districts which they will be targeting to maximise their delegates tally.

A final key factor in the Democratic contest is the role of absentee ballots (with many having already been cast) which could provide a boost for Clinton in blunting Obama’s recent momentum.

With polls tightening in many of the key states being contested on ‘Super Tuesday’, the Democratic race seems likely to produce a patch work of results, further confused by variations in delegate tallies. What looks certain is that there will be no clear winner on the Democratic side after Feb 5, and with both Obama and Clinton boasting sufficient resources to continue their campaigns through until March or even April we could be in for a very long wait to discover who the Democratic nominee will be.

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Ben Surtees used to be a prolific poster on PBC in the 2004-2005 period. Since then we only really hear from him on US issues.

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