US Correspondent Chris Colalillo outlines the results thus far.
As a result of winning Florida, Mitt Romney has gained frontrunner status in what has been a brutal primary. However, no conclusions should be drawn yet as primaries are notorious for their unexpected results, like Rick Santorum’s performance in Iowa. The primaries would be more predictable if a prominent conservative Republican were in Romney’s leading position, as they would not receive the same level of criticism from other contenders. Although Romney currently leads, there is still a bloc of the traditional Republican support base that are suspicious of the “liberal” agenda he enacted whilst Governor of Massachusetts. Other candidates, in particular Newt Gingrich, have condemned Romney’s record on taxation and healthcare legislation, labelling him the “Massachusetts Moderate.” You could be forgiven for thinking that Romney is like the Malcolm Turnbull of American politics. Romney’s victories in New Hampshire and Florida, as well as his strong performance is Iowa, are significant as they are swing states in the 2012 election. However, the southern states are yet to hold their primaries and here Romney will face tougher competition from more conservative candidates, notably Gingrich who is from The South.
This campaign is unconventional in the sense that there are three competing forces within the primaries: the moderate Romney, the libertarian Ron Paul and the conservatives Santorum and Gingrich. Republican primaries are traditionally collegial, however, this year has seen the eruption of a civil war within the party, potentially damaging the eventual nominee’s campaign. Ron Paul’s campaign has drawn support from a significant portion of the Tea Party, denying the conservative candidates more votes. Although this is the case, no one believes that Ron Paul will be the nominee and thus his candidacy has been a blessing to Romney by denying the conservative camp a sole challenger. The more conservative candidates that remain in the primaries, the more beneficial it is for Romney as none of them can garner enough votes to consistently beat him in future primaries.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has amended the nominating process for the 2012 primaries. All primaries held between February 7 and March 24, will have their delegates allocated proportionately, meaning all candidates will stay in the race longer, thus making it more unpredictable and difficult for Romney or any other candidate to win the nomination early. The Florida primary has given a good indication as to the most electable candidate as it is considered a microcosm of the rest of the country, hence its accuracy and importance in determining the election outcome.
The primaries have given way to embellished personal achievements and outrageous promises, such as Gingrich’s “American Moon Colony” by the end of his second term. There have also been suggestions from candidates of a flat income taxation rate of less that 20%. These statements are only a ploy to win over traditional Republican support and should be treated as such. No Congress would ever pass such legislation.
Since 1980, the Republican nomination has always gone to either the winner of Iowa or New Hampshire. One of these candidates has also always won the South Carolina Primary. During 2012, this will not be the case as three different candidates have won these State primaries. There are three qualities that Republicans are looking for in their nominee, with no candidate currently possessing all three: (1) being the most passionate conservative; (2) being a skilled debater who can take on Obama; and (3) the ability the win the election. Romney is not the most passionate conservative, has satisfactory debating skills, and is the most electable. Gingrich is a passionate conservative, a skilled debater, but is considered unelectable by many. Santorum is a passionate conservative, a satisfactory debater, and mildly electable. Paul is a passionate libertarian, an average debater, and considered unelectable. The first candidate to display these three qualities will win the nomination.
Regardless of who wins the Republican nomination, President Obama is in trouble. Many commentators have drawn parallels between the situation in 2012 and the 1980 election between Carter and Reagan, where unemployment was the focus of the campaign and was ultimately Carter’s undoing. If Obama wins this election, it will be by a slim margin, not a landslide like 2008. If Romney were to receive the nomination, as is looking increasingly likely but not certain, he would need to choose a more conservative Republican as his Vice-Presidential candidate in order to defeat Obama. This would give traditional conservative Republicans a reason to support his candidacy. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey would enhance Romney’s prospects as he has a successful conservative record and executive experience. There have been countless rumours circulating that Romney, if he were to be the nominee, would choose Floridian Senator Marco Rubio – a young, energetic conservative who understands the aspirations of ordinary Americans and has the ability to inspire those around him. Rubio is Hispanic and would win Florida for Romney, as well as providing serious competition for Obama in New Mexico and Nevada where many Hispanics reside. Over 25% of Nevadans are Hispanic and 10% of the population are Mormon like Romney. Either of these two as Romney’s VP candidate could provide him with a winning formula. Florida is worth 29 electoral votes, New Mexico five, and Nevada six; but Romney would still have a fight on his hands as Rubio is still young, at 40 years of age and lacks executive experience.
The RNC is holding its convention in Tampa, Florida – a state that holds the key to the White House. The state of Ohio will be one to watch on election night along with Florida, as no Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio (18); and Florida (29) is essential for a Republican victory. The polls in Ohio close at 7.30pm EST and 8.00pm EST in Florida, indicating early on in the night whether the Republican candidate is on track to a victory. This is not to say that if a Republican wins Ohio and Florida that they will win the election, but it will be an indication early on in the night that if the Republican candidate doesn’t win these two states, they are in serious trouble and will fall short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. The state of Missouri (10) is another swing state to look out for. Since 1904, Missouri has voted for the winning candidate on all but two occasions (1956 (0.22%) and 2008 (0.1%)). Ohio is in the “rust-belt”, the old industrial area of the US and a place hard hit by the recession, as was Missouri. Many are looking for a saviour to create jobs in these two states. Since 1980, North Carolina (15) has voted Republican, except in 2008 where Obama won by 0.3% of the vote. This is a swing state for 2012 and will be pivotal in the race. The Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina – emphasising the importance of this state in Obama’s campaign. Virginia (13) is considered a swing state, and has voted Republican since 1968, however, Obama won it with 53% of the vote. If the Republican candidate wins Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, together with the safe Republican states (notionally gaining 266 electoral votes) – they will only need another four votes to win. Rubio as a VP could potentially win New Mexico (5) and/or Nevada (6), and tip the Republicans over the line.
The excitement about Obama has certainly evaporated since 2008, which I suspect will result in a lower voter turnout this year. There is a sentiment of disappointment in many areas of America providing the Republicans with plenty of ammunition to use against Obama’s administration. Obama’s employment record will be the main line of attack from the Republican candidate, emphasising that Obama has spent $825 billion to stimulate the economy, with the unemployment figure remaining almost stagnant since he took office at over 8%, resulting in a net loss of 1.1 million jobs. ObamaCare is another talking point. Obama promised that his plan would save families $2,500 on their premiums, when in actual fact, it will increase the cost by 1-3%. Home foreclosures will come back to bite Obama. He promised that his Housing Program would prevent 7-9 million families from foreclosure. Only 0.01% of borrowers have reduced their debt thus far, and his Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, has done him no favours by stating that Obama’s programs have “underperformed”. And this is not to mention Obama’s promised “Green Jobs” and the deficit spending.
There have already been contentious campaign techniques adopted by the Obama administration. In December, the State of South Carolina announced that in order to vote in the 2012 elections, all voters are required to have an identification card. The State is providing this service free of charge so that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to obtain a card and vote. However, the Obama administration has criticised this new requirement as a Republican ploy to disenfranchise minorities and those on low-incomes, even though it is free and will significantly reduce the rate of voter fraud. Throughout January, there has been controversy over Obama’s appointment of Richard Cordray as the new Commissioner of Consumer and Financial Protection Bureau during the Senate recess period. The legality of this appointment is still being questioned, however, it is clearly a political strategy of Obama’s as Cordray is a popular attorney from Ohio – a swing state, and the Bureau that he heads is a department that will receive support from concerned American consumers.
Obama will need to hold onto North Carolina as he faces a tough fight in Florida, and could potentially lose it. If Obama wins North Carolina, the North East and the Great Lakes states, he will win re-election, as the Western states extending to the Pacific states are not wealthy in electoral votes. Commentators say this will be the most vicious election in some time, reflecting just how close it will be. If the Republicans manage to win the Presidency, the Senate and the House in 2012, it will be one of the most successful electoral recoveries from a political party in US history.