This Ash Wednesday, All Eyes On Religious Conservative Rick Santorum and His Beliefs

This Ash Wednesday, all eyes will be on one very outspoken Catholic: Rick Santorum. In tonight’s 20th GOP presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, the stakes are particularly high for both Santorum and Mitt Romney. 

Though according to a new CNN/Time/ORC poll, Romney leads Santorum 36% to 32% in Arizona, the February 15-19 Gallup Daily tracking rolling average showed Santorum ahead of Romney nationally by 36% to 26%. This is Santorum's biggest lead yet. Interestingly, in another USA Today/Gallup survey, 54% of Americans picked Romney as the best candidate to beat Barack Obama while only 29% chose Santorum.

Given his remarks at a Phoenix town hall on Tuesday night, Santorum will likely spend tonight’s debate defending various statements that have recently caused controversy: his accusation that President Obama’s theology is not Biblical; his opposition to certain prenatal tests; and a speech he made in 2008 uncovered by Right Wing Watch last week, in which he warned that “Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.” If Santorum is smart, he will utilize the controversy surrounding these statements to focus the debate on himself tonight.

As for Romney, his firm stance on immigration issues may be his main hope for victory in Arizona, where immigration issues are close to home. It seems though, that given Santorum’s various controversial statements, Romney might benefit from shifting his plan of attack away from a portrayal of Santorum as a free-spending Washington insider, and toward a questioning of whether Santorum will be able to keep his extremist views in check.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore.