Digested: The Republican Primaries (so far)

republican-presidential-candidatesAmerican politics is especially painful for non-Americans, seeing as though we have to deal with its far-reaching fallout while having no say whatsoever in what happens.

In a sane world, the citizens of earth would all get a vote in November’s presidential election – who wins has the potential to drastically affect all of our lives. Even with American military and economic clout palpably on the wane, the victor will unchallengeable remain the planet’s most powerful single individual. As it happens, we just have to sit and watch.

Now is a good time to start paying attention. The Republicans have started the slow process that will culminate in August’s National Convention in Tampa, Florida, where the Party officially chooses its Presidential candidate. Also, some of the Republican race’s zanier outliers have begun to drop out, meaning that a clearer picture of who will eventually face Obama is beginning to emerge.

How it works

In America, voters can choose to register as supporters of a political party. Essentially, primaries and caucuses – they’re slightly different versions of the same thing, but both tend to get collectively labelled as ‘primaries’ – allow these registered voters to choose which of their party’s contenders they want to become its official Presidential candidate.

Sitting Presidents are all but guaranteed to retain their party’s nomination, and Obama enters 2012 as the Democrat’s official candidate. As such, only the Republicans are having to go through the rigmarole of holding full primaries this year. Candidates inject huge amounts of money into campaigning for primaries, running both positive TV ads promoting themselves and their policies as well as attacking their opponents.

Every one of the 50 US states will hold a primary, and they are spread out across an election year – the Iowa Caucus always come first, and in 2012 was on the January the 3rd, and the last, the Utah primary, is due on June the 26th. On the day of a primary, voters go to poll booths across their state and vote for their favoured candidate of the ones their party has to offer. At the Republican National Convention in the summer, delegates from each primary will vote for a presidential candidate, based on how their state voted. The candidate who gets the most votes from delegates will be officially named the Republican Presidential candidate.

By this stage, however, voting becomes a mere formality – it’s highly likely that one candidate will have clearly emerged as the winner long before this. On ‘Super Tuesday’ (March 6th), when 13 states all vote on the same day, a candidate who puts in a strong-showing could easily gain a lead that would be impossible for any other to catch up with, leaving the remaining contenders to fight for second place.

What happened in Iowa

Mitt Romney scraped to the narrowest of victories in the Iowa Caucus, receiving 30, 015 votes, eight more than second place Rick Santorum. Santorum, a vocal social conservative, concentrated heavily on campaigning in Iowa, hoping to win the support of its large population of evangelical Christians. This seems to have worked, propelling him from the back of the pack to a handful of votes short of taking the state – his support was especially high in rural areas. Ron Paul did well, coming third with 26, 219.

Newt Gingrich came a disappointing fourth, with 10,000 less than Paul, while Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann and Jon Huntsman trailed at fifth, sixth and seventh respectively. Huntsman didn’t campaign in Iowa at all, focusing his funds on raising support in New Hampshire in preparation for its primary on the 10th of January, whereas for Bachmann the result was disappointing enough for her to drop out of the race.