High stakes for Romney and Santorum in tonight's Republican debate

Feb 22, 2012

The four remaining Republican presidential candidates are set to take the stage tonight for what could be the final debate of the primary season.

While they will likely face a lot of questions from Arizona voters during the event, scheduled to be broadcast from Mesa, the candidates' performances have the potential to make a big impact in Michigan as well.

Once considered to be an electoral cakewalk for mitten-state native Mitt Romney, next Tuesday's Michigan primary has turned into a tight race between Romney and ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

As Michigan Radio's Mark Brush reported yesterday, recent polls have put Romney and Santorum within two points of each other with less than a week before voters head to the voting booths.

If things weren't worrisome enough for Romney, USA Today's Jackie Kucinich reports that Santorum is pulling closer in Arizona too, with some voters there believing he could pull off an upset. Arizona holds its primary the same day as Michigan.

Kucinich writes:

A CNN/Time poll released Tuesday showed Romney with 36%, Santorum 32%, Gingrich 18% and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 6%...Lori Leavitt, 48, a firefighter from Phoenix and a Santorum supporter, said the debate will be "huge," because "Romney and Santorum are really neck and neck in Arizona, and I think this is going to give one of them an edge."

Clair Van Steenwyk, a Paul supporter and candidate for the Republican Senate nomination here, said it's possible for Santorum to beat Romney in Arizona.

Even so, tonight's debate might be more significant in terms of swaying Michigan voters because, as Kucinich reports, 300,000 Arizonans have already made their choice in early voting.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom