Much At Stake in Wednesday Night’s GOP Debate

Rick Santorum faces the biggest test.

Posted: 02/22/2012 04:45 PM EST
Rick Santorum

On Wednesday night the four last-standing members of the GOP presidential field will face off in Arizona for what feels like debate number 1009. But after 20 such gatherings and several primary caucuses, not one has been able to capture more than the fleeting interest of Republican primary voters, who’ve taken the meaning of "fickle" to a whole new level. So, much is at stake.

 

Following an impressive trifecta of primary victories earlier this month, Rick Santorum has been having his time in the sun. With far fewer resources, he’s leading or running head-to-head with Mitt Romney in polls nationally and in Michigan and Arizona, which will hold the next two primary contests. Voters not only like what they’ve been hearing from him on the stump, they like him. But tonight he will, for the first time, have the target on his back and the aggressive, sometimes prickly Santorum’s challenge will be to appear more presidential than pugilistic evangelical-in-chief.

 

Mitt Romney, the one with brains and all of the money, has worked so hard to contort himself into a “severe conservative,” there ought to be a carnival act named after him. But even voters in his native state of Michigan, where he’s running neck and neck with Santorum, aren’t buying it. The news this week, that his campaign in January spent more than it took in to beat down Newt Gingrich, who was, at the time, the not-Mitt-of-the-month, isn’t helping his case. Romney needs to convince voters that he’s got convictions and isn’t trying to buy the nomination with negative advertising.

 

After two poor debate performances and a loss in the Florida primary, the fiery Newt Gingrich has seemed to be out of steam and bold ideas. He’s not competing in Michigan and Arizona and is, instead, focusing on Super Tuesday, when several Southern states, including his old home state of Georgia, hold primaries. Still, he’s got to show voters that he’s still in the game.

 

Tex. Rep. Ron Paul will be Ron Paul, as he always has been, but it will be interesting to see if he continues the attack he launched this week on Santorum, whom he accused of not being “groovy” on government spending and a “fake” fiscal conservative.

 

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(Photo: AP Photo/John Raoux)

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