On March 1st twelve states go to the polls in the Democratic and Republican primary races in an electoral explosion known as ‘Super Tuesday’.
A quick recap is in order. The Democratic competition has boiled down to Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders is more radical than Hillary when it comes to socio-economic policy, vowing to take on the big banks and revolutionise American political culture. Hillary is more pragmatic, casting herself as the highly experienced, natural successor to President Obama.
On the Republican side, five candidates remain. Ohio governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are clinging on for dear life, and are long shots at this point. The real contest is between Trump, who enjoys leads in almost all polls, and senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Around a quarter of all nominating delegates are available on Super Tuesday, so this is a very big day on the primary calendar. With that in mind, here are five burning questions for Super Tuesday.
Can Marco Rubio bring back ‘Marcomentum’?
Marco Rubio finally tore into Donald Trump during the recent Republican debate in Houston, even suggesting afterwards that the controversial billionaire wet himself, but was it too little too late?
The senator from Florida isn’t exactly the ideal candidate for the Republican Party. He is a first term senator, like Barack Obama in 2008, but he does not carry the same gravitas on stage as the current president did during his nomination process.
Rubio has also had to distance himself from parts of his more liberal record in Congress, specifically the ‘Gang of Eight’ bill in 2013 that sought to implement immigration reform.
However he is a young candidate with an optimistic message of a ‘New American Century’ that can reach our to hispanic voters, a key battleground demographic for the Republicans.
Rubio lags in second place in most Super Tuesday states, and has not yet won a single state primary or caucus. For the time being he can whittle away at Trump’s lead by taking delegates from second place, but at some point he will need to win some states to prove his viability.
It looks unlikely given early polls, but if Rubio could win at least one or two states on Super Tuesday that would be a tremendous boost for a campaign that has struggled to find the next gear. Look to Virginia and Minnesota in particular, where Rubio could put forward a very close race.
An endorsement from Jeb Bush wouldn’t hurt, of course…
Bernie can win states, but can he win enough delegates?
After a crushing loss in the competitive South Carolina, Senator Sanders can win some states on Super Tuesday. Colorado, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Vermont are all winnable states for the self proclaimed democratic socialist.
The problem for Sanders is that Hillary Clinton is leading by wide margins in the delegate-rich states of Texas, Virginia, and Georgia. More populous states have more proportionally more open delegates through which to select candidates. Colorado, for example, has 79 delegates up for grabs, while Texas has 252.
Bear in mind that Hillary will win many delegates from states that Bernie might win, while he is far less competitive in her delegate-rich states, and Clinton could have found herself with an impressive lead by the end of Super Tuesday.
Is the Trump nomination inevitable?
The million, or should that be billion, dollar question. For now, the answer would seem to be no.
Trump’s team expertly diverted media attention away from a debate where he was continually wrong footed and undermined by Rubio and Cruz by announcing the Chris Christie endorsement a day after. Trump suffocated media attention away from the debate and onto himself over the weekend. So at this point it is difficult to assess if Marco Rubio has managed to claw back any swing Republicans.
Trump will do very well on Super Tuesday. He leads in all states except Ted Cruz’s home state of Texas, with Rubio trailing second in most other states. However, if Rubio can secure enough delegates to maintain viability, pull in a Jeb Bush endorsement, and have John Kasich throw in the towel, the Rubio-Trump competition is not done.
Cruz, meanwhile, has been struggling. The controversial, firebrand senator is losing his core demographic of self identified hardline conservatives, Tea Party supporters, and evangelicals to Trump. Meanwhile the Republican donors are backing Rubio, and few endorsements are likely to flow to Ted Cruz. South Carolina should have been an ideal state for Ted Cruz, and instead he limped to third place behind both Trump and Rubio.
Rubio is just about keeping the inevitability of Trump at bay, for now.
Will Hillary maintain her lead among African Americans?
South Carolina was a ringing victory for Hillary Clinton, but perhaps the most important part of the win was her impressive numbers among African Americans,
Hillary Clinton won 87% of the African American vote in South Carolina. Self identified African Americans make up roughly 14% of the American population, and in 2012 93% of African Americans voted for the Democrats. It is an absolutely vital segment of the Democratic coalition, and one that Bernie Sanders has repeatedly struggled to reach.
Part of this may be due to the perception that he is not as close to President Obama, who remains popular with Democratic voters. Clinton has also done a better job appealing to the Black Lives Matter movement. Sanders has sought to explain continued racial inequality in America through the lens of broader socio-economic problems in what he dubs a ‘rigged economy’. Clinton, on the other hand, has shown a deeper understanding of the particular problems affecting African American communities.
Sanders urgently needs to make inroads with this crucial demographic, and the Super Tuesday results will reveal whether he has made any progress, or if the South Carolina result was an accurate portent of things to come.
Will the Republican Party accept Trump?
Over the past several days there have been a few noted Republicans coming out and endorsing Donald Trump. The governor of Maine has declared his support of the real estate mogul, and Chris Christie has taken back to the stage, however briefly, to announce his love for Trump. Perhaps also to court a Vice Presidential selection.
Despite these defections from GOP orthodoxy, the party at large still does not like Trump. Many do not consider him a ‘true’ conservative, given his Democratic past and more liberal views on social and economic issues.
After all, Trump has defended Planned Parenthood, a government institution that provides abortion services to women, and argued on behalf of Canadian-style healthcare.
Party elders are terrified that he will ruin the party’s ability to appeal to hispanic voters, whom the party desperately needs. 8 of 10 hispanic voters currently have a negative view of Trump, with 7 of those reporting a ‘very unfavourable’ opinion of the billionaire.
Big money donors are gearing up for a momentous anti-Trump ad campaign, and continue to ask the field to narrow, in order that Rubio can be the alternative. More alarmingly, some party higher-ups are researching the viability of a third party candidacy.
Should Trump win the nomination, this is the Republican Party’s ultimate way of refusing him. A third party run by someone like John Kasich, Jeb Bush, or even Mitt Romney, would mean that victory was all but impossible for the Republicans. However, it would save the party from a Trump nomination that would likely lose to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and could repel hispanic and African American voters for years.
How well Trump does on Super Tuesday will bring these issues into the spotlight, as GOP leaders decide how best to handle the billionaire’s popularity. Will they continue to support Marco Rubio, mounting negative Trump ads? Are they taking the idea of a third party run seriously?
Boiled down, the issue is revealing the extent to which the Republican Party is so fundamentally divided. At the moment it appear that Trump is not the person to keep this ship together, let alone move it forward.