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What's next in the US election race?

09 march 2012, 16:26
It looks like it will be weeks, if not months, before the Republican presidential race produces an opponent for President Barack Obama after this week's anti-climactic Super Tuesday contests, AFP reports.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney looks condemned to a long trudge towards his prize, while rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich breathe defiance but seem to lack a credible mathematical path to thwart his eventual coronation.

Here are some key moments and themes to watch for as the Republican nominating derby winds on.

Rough month for Romney?

Romney won six of 10 states on Super Tuesday, including the big prize of swing state Ohio, extended his lead over his rivals and with over 400 delegates is a third of the way to the magic number of 1,144 needed for the nomination.

Even so, Super Tuesday was spun as a disappointment for the former Massachusetts governor as he could not produce the dominating performance that would have knocked out Gingrich and Santorum.

In fact, Super Tuesday again exposed liabilities dragging on Romney's candidacy, including frailty in southern conservative states, and the multi-millionaire businessman's problems with middle and working class voters.

In the next few weeks, Romney faces a string of contests in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Kansas where he is not favored and could be forced to watch Santorum and Gingrich celebrate victories.

This could fuel a narrative that Romney cannot kill off a weak field, train a media spotlight on his weaknesses and whip up an environment ripe for more gaffes which could hurt his general election prospects.

Romney will hope to do well enough in these states to pad his wide delegate lead and dream of more favorable contests in states like New York and California in months to come.

Whither the anti-Romneys?

Romney appears to already have an almost unassailable delegate lead -- with 412 to 169 for Santorum and 115 for Gingrich, according to a CNN tracker.

But what if only one anti-Romney candidate were on the ballot? Would Romney be threatened by a candidate championing a unified conservative vote?

Gingrich has won two contests -- South Carolina and Georgia -- and wants to emerge as the champion of the Deep South. Santorum has done well in states with large numbers of evangelical and rural voters.

As the third placed contender, Gingrich is beginning to hear calls to step aside.

"It has become increasingly clear that the former speaker can either be a kingmaker or a spoiler," said conservative intellectual Richard Viguerie on Thursday, calling on Gingrich to quit and endorse Santorum.

Gingrich though insists he is going nowhere and argues that he is the candidate best placed to debate Obama later this year.

In past races, Gingrich might have been history already, as candidates seen as having little chance to win the nomination typically see their fundraising dry up and cannot compete in races scattered across the vast country.

But thanks to a Supreme Court ruling permitting so-called "Super PAC" committees to accept limitless sums from rich donors, candidates like Gingrich can stay at the party.

Obama: waiting for a dance partner

The Obama campaign is ticking over, waiting for the moment when it will leap into life as soon as the president knows for sure which Republican will try to wrest away the keys to the White House in November.

Many pundits believe Obama is the real winner of the prolonged Republican race as his potential rivals beat one another up, alienate key independent voters and delay the withering attacks sure to come the president's way.

His campaign is taking advantage of the time to recreate the nationwide grassroots organization which paved Obama's route to power in 2008 and to raise money -- buckets of it.

The president has so far held more than 100 fundraisers for his reelection effort, and was headed to Texas on Friday for another big money event.

Meanwhile, Obama's prospects for November seem to be improving, as a falling unemployment rate and rising consumer confidence fuel a sense that at last the economy is truly recovering. Obama's approval rating is now up to 50 percent.

"If you look at where we were six months ago, (and) where we are today, we believe we're making steady progress because of what we're doing, because of what the economy is doing and because of what the Republicans are doing," said Obama's political guru David Axelrod.

But the Obama team knows it still faces a tough fight, with many economists predicting a slowdown in growth later this year, and with the housing market, for many Americans a barometer of financial health, still in the doldrums.

Outside factors -- from the euro debt crisis to rising gasoline prices to fears of a military showdown with Iran -- could also spark unpredictable consequences which could harm Obama's reelection prospects.

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