Raila, Ruto go head-to-head in 13 battleground counties

Ruto and Raila

Deputy President William Ruto andAzimio flagbearer Raila Odinga. The two have everything to fight for in battleground counties that collectively command nearly six million votes.

Photo credit: DPPS

Deputy President William Ruto and Azimio La Umoja Movement leader Raila Odinga appear locked in a neck-and-neck race for State House, and both have it all to play for in a huge vote bloc in at least 13 battleground counties that are likely to determine the outcome of the presidential election.

The DP has vote-rich Mt Kenya and Rift Valley in his corner if the popularity of his United Democratic Alliance (UDA), whose ticket is the most sought after in the regions, is anything to go by.

For Mr Odinga, his strategists believe his traditional Nyanza, Western and Coast bases are still bankable to help him win his fifth run for President.

Assuming 2013 and 2017 voting patterns are replicated, latest voter registration figures show that Mr Odinga’s perceived strongholds in 18 counties command 8,450,380 votes.

The second-in-command’s perceived strongholds in 16 counties collectively have 8,040,885 votes. This means that the two contenders have everything to fight for in the battle ground counties that collectively command nearly six million votes.

On Tuesday, the DP declared that he will roll out the campaign of his life to secure the presidency, moments after he was endorsed by his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) to run for the top seat.

“I’m ready, I’ll do everything and I’m determined to give you a campaign you will be proud of and to win for our party, coalition and the people of Kenya. We are prepared and inspired to do what we can, to work with everyone to open doors of inclusion,” he declared.

Mr Odinga’s presidential campaign spokesperson, Prof Makau Mutua, said the team was leaving nothing to chance and are motivated by the fact that “every vote counts.”

“This is a national election, so the bottom line is that every county is important and every vote counts. We’re not ceding an inch of our strongholds neither are we leaving anything to chance. We’re on a mission to win in the first round and signs of [the] times are there,” Prof Mutua told the Nation yesterday.

But even as the two camps have drawn their daggers in the epic duel, at least 13 counties with a total of 5,661,176 hold the key to State House.

These are Nairobi (2,505,199), Tana River (137,661), Lamu (79,157), Garissa (207,435), Wajir (196,466), Marsabit (164,864), Turkana (241,583), West Pokot (214,574), Samburu (98,081), Narok (397,618), Kajiado (463,546), Kisii (638,603) and Nyamira (316,389).

Mt Kenya

Analysts, however, argue that Mt Kenya region will prove decisive in this year’s election.

According to Tifa research analyst, Tom Wolf, although the DP has been leading in the region in recent opinion polls, the region could be a battleground depending on different scenarios, including the choice of running mate for the two presidential aspirants.

“Ruto has an advantage in Mt Kenya so far but we don’t know how that is going to change when they finally pick their running mates,” Dr Wolf said yesterday.

Both contestants have set their sights on the Mt Kenya region for their running mates. The DP is reportedly considering Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, Kandara’s Alice Wahome and Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki.

Mr Odinga is reportedly keen on former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.

The strategy by Mr Odinga’s camp is to rely on President Kenyatta to help secure a fraction of the votes—his ambitious supporters float 30 per cent—from a region that has shunned Mr Odinga in past elections.

The argument is that, even without the vote-rich bloc, Mr Odinga managed 43 per cent in 2013 and 44.9 per cent in the 2017 elections that the Supreme Court annulled.

Mr Odinga boycotted the subsequent repeat election.

Dr Wolf argues that the region remains a battleground “because when you have such a concentration of votes, even a candidate who gets 10 per cent instead of five per cent makes a big difference.”

He noted that the voter turn-out in the region will also determine the winner of the elections.

“This can be dependent on who the candidates for governor, senators and even woman reps positions align themselves to. These people at the county level also have a bigger motivation to get the voters out. So, when they are energising people to go and vote, presumably very few people will go to the polling station and fail to vote for the presidential candidate. So at least 90-95 per cent will vote for President,” Dr Wolf said.

Mr Gachagua and Tujibebe WaKenya party leader William Kabogo insist Mt Kenya will vote Ruto since the community does not want to be viewed as “betrayers” after the DP backed President Kenyatta for the top seat in 2013 and 2017.

“We have been asked to betray Ruto but we shall not do so because we are not betrayers,” Mr Gachagua said. For Mr Kabogo, a former Kiambu governor, “the DP’s ideas have excited Mt Kenya and he will get a huge chunk of votes from the region.”

Eastern

The entry of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka into Mr Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja camp is seen as a huge boost for his candidature.

So is the decision by Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula to join the Ruto camp.

Political analyst Dismas Mokua argues that the Lower Eastern (Ukambani) region will vote to the last man for Mr Odinga should he name Mr Musyoka his running mate.

“Lower Eastern will be informed by Raila’s choice of running mate. Raila will get a lion’s share of the vote if Kalonzo is running mate and split the vote if Kalonzo is not running mate,” Mr Mokua argues.

The region overwhelmingly voted for Mr Odinga in the last two elections when he ran on a joint ticket with Mr Musyoka, which means that, if the bloc is chipped away, Mr Odinga would also be in more trouble.

“Ruto has a competitive advantage in Western given his early interest in the region. Musalia and Wetang’ula partnerships under Kenya Kwanza moved the needle in favour of Ruto, although Raila maintains a strong influence and networks. Internal Azimio cat fights must be managed carefully to avoid voter disenfranchisement,” Mr Mokua said.

Nairobi

Nairobi, which is cosmopolitan, he says, will be a 50:50 fight.

“Nairobi will also be informed by coalition’s gubernatorial candidates as well as choice of presidential running mate,” added Mr Mokua.

An analysis of 2013 and 2017 poll data corroborates this view; that, in Nairobi, rival political formations have almost split equally, making it a battleground.

In 2013, Mr Odinga narrowly edged Mr Kenyatta in Nairobi by polling 691,156 against 659,490. In 2017, Raila widened the lead over Uhuru, garnering 828,826 against 791,291.

Nyanza

Other battleground counties are Nyamira, Narok, Marsabit, Wajir and Garissa, which Mr Odinga won in 2013, but Mr Kenyatta flipped in 2017.

In 2013 Mr Odinga won in Nyamira (121, 590) against Uhuru (54, 071) but Mr Kenyatta flipped the region in 2017 polling 106,508 against Mr Odinga’s 95,227.

In Kisii, Uhuru reduced Raila’s lead with the ODM leader polling 236,831 against the president’s 955,96. In 2017, Mr Odinga garnered 223,155 against Mr Kenyatta’s 174,213. Narok is another county Mr Kenyatta flipped in 2017. In 2013 Mr Odinga won by polling 118,623 against Mr Kenyatta’s 109,413. But, in 2017, Mr Kenyatta carried the day in Narok, garnering 149,376 against Mr Odinga’s 129,360.

Rift Valley

Though the President won Kajiado in both elections, it has been with a narrow margin. In 2013, he polled 138,851 against Mr Odinga’s 117,856. He widened the lead in 2017 polling 186,481 against Mr Odinga’s 138,405.

Samburu, where Mr Odinga and the President nearly tied in 2017, is another battle ground. Mr Kenyatta narrowly won with 31,746 against Mr Odinga’s 31,615. In 2013, Mr Odinga had won, polling 31,086 against Mr Kenyatta’s 22,085.

Marsabit, where Mr Odinga (43,843) and Mr Kenyatta (42,406) nearly tied in 2013 before the President turned the tables in 2017, polling 92,696 against his opponent’s 16,003, is another contested area. So is Wajir where Mr Odinga (49,712) edged out Mr Kenyatta (38,927) in 2013 but lost in 2017 when the President flipped the region, polling 60,508 against Mr Odinga’s 52,362.

Garissa, where Mr Odinga (44,724) narrowly beat Mr Kenyatta (41,672) in 2013 and the two leaders nearly tied in 2017 when the President polled 54,783 against the ODM leader’s 54,356, is another battleground.

Mr Mokua argues that, in Mt Kenya, “the emergence of a strong national leader like Jimi Wanjigi can rock the boat and create trouble for Raila and Ruto because of the heavy Mt Kenya vote.”

Mr Wanjigi on Tuesday joined the DP at his party’s NDC at Kasarani gymnasium, signalling a probable working relationship.

Significant leaders

Prof Mutua was yesterday bullish that Mr Odinga is likely to get a good number of votes in Mt Kenya due to President Kenyatta’s perceived influence.

“Mr Kenyatta is a voter and remains the most significant leader in Mt Kenya. His entry into the campaigns will definitely boost our prospects in the region,” Prof Mutua told the Nation.

He said Mr Odinga will intensify his campaigns in the perceived battlegrounds as well as Mt Kenya and Rift Valley, which have not voted for him substantially in the past two elections.

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