The United States contest to see who the opposition Republican party selects as its candidate to replace the incumbent, Barack Obama, has never left the field of choice this open this late in the game: Super Tuesday – when the most states vote in a single day.
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all continue to appeal for voters’ support.
Romney has racked up four state-wins in a row at this point, and now comes his adopted home state’s chance – Massachusetts. He has high hopes also for Vermont, and is in good shape in Virginia because two of his rivals did not get on the ballot in time – a question of signature-gathering rules.
Voting is being held in ten states (out of 50 in all). The total of delegates to be decided on Super Tuesday is 437. The highest stakes are in Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee. If a candidate does poorly today, he risks being marginalised. The nomination winner will require 1,144 delegates for the Republican National Convention in August – one more than half the total.
Romney has clearly outdone the others so far, with 203. Santorum is at 92, Gingrich is at 33 and Paul is at 25. But some catching up is possible.
Santorum could also play well in Tennessee and Oklahoma, but is most riveted on Ohio, which neighbours Pennsylvania, where he used to be Senator. If he won in Ohio, that might squeeze Gingrich and Paul to consider bowing out.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Gingrich expects to perform well across the South and in Kansas in the Midwest. His popularity could well be higher in more conservative states, giving Santorum stiffer competition. Romney is more centre-right.
Ron Paul, a libertarian former Representative for Texas describes his own supporters as “a tireless, irate minority,” but that has not made enough difference for his presidential nomination campaign.
Some pundits say the Republican party is showing signs of fatigue, painting the process less as an epic fight than a long slog.
For a view from ABC News in Washington, euronews spoke with political commentator Cokie Roberts about the significance of Super Tuesday.
Adrian Lancashire, euronews: After the political tug-o-war for earlier primary winnings, what has the activity of the last two months shown about Republicans and undecideds?
Roberts: The last two months have shown us that the Republican electorate is still unhappy with its field of candidates. So, although Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, remains in the lead – he has the most delegates so far, he has the most money, he has the most organisation – voters still have not warmed up to him. So, they keep voting for other people as well.
euronews: Will Super Tuesday define the nomination winner?
Roberts: I think it is very unlikely that Super Tuesday will define the winner. I think that what we will see is different states going to different candidates.
I have never seen a Republican nomination go on this long without an obvious front-runner, and I have also never seen the Republican establishment – the office-holders, the people who work for the party – be so negative about the candidates.
These are not people who are popular with their peers. So, this could be divided among the candidates and on we go to the next contest.
euronews: Campaign funding, connecting emotionally with voters, convincing ideas… What’s the most important thing here?
Roberts: Well campaign funding has certainly made a difference, in that it has allowed the candidates, especially Mitt Romney, to go on television with very, very harsh negative advertising against his opponents. The effect of that has been to make the voters unhappy about all of the candidates. That is not going to be a good situation for the Republicans as they move into the general election in November.
It is also true that connecting with the voters is an important element, and that is where Mitt Romney has had so much trouble.
He keeps making gaffes that show you just how rich he is – like talking about his wife’s two Cadillacs, which is, of course, a very fancy luxury car – that kind of thing. So, connection is important.
euronews: Would voters hold it more against him… the Cadillacs or the Nascar race car reference?
Roberts: Well yes: Mitt Romney went to the Daytona 500, the famous Nascar race, and when asked if he was a fan – and many, many, many millions of Americans are fans – and he said, ‘Well, not so much, but I know a few guys who are Nascar team owners.’
Most of us do not know team owners of anything. Those are rich guys. He just keeps… anytime he goes off script, he says something like that and the voters cringe.
euronews: What campaign promise have you heard that you think would be sure to get broken if a Republican got into power?
Roberts: My guess is that the one that they cannot keep is that they – all of them – have plans for cutting taxes and balancing the budget that just do not add up. The math does not work.