Who is Winning the CNN Arizona GOP Debate? Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul Duke it Out

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We might as well call February 28 the new Super Tuesday.

Though March 6 is officially dubbed such, the coming days seem to hold more urgency than ever for the remaining cast in the GOP presidential field. This coming Tuesday, then, where Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries, is make or break for the candidates.

Mitt Romney — considered the default GOP frontrunner — has taken a blow as former Senator Rick Santorum has surged in polls and national reputation. After winning a string of primaries in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota, Santorum has taken the wind out of Romney’s sails, and jumped to the top of national polls.

Tonight’s CNN Arizona debate, then, provides an opportunity for Santorum to cement his image as the Republican leader. It also provides Romney with a chance to unseat Santorum and once again take the lead.

This isn’t the first time Romney has faced such a challenge. After losing the South Carolina primary to Newt Gingrich in January, Romney fell by as much as 12 points in the polls while Gingrich jumped ahead of the pack before the pivotal Florida primary. A GOP debate in Tampa, Florida, allowed Romney to unleash a full assault against Gingrich. Romeny’s strong performance in that debate helped him go on and take Florida.

The Wednesday Arizona debate will be hosted by CNN's John King, a moderator who received flack in CNN’s South Carolina debate last month when he opened by asking Gingrich about his extra-marital affairs at the height of that scandal.

The debate is the last that will be held before “Super Tuesday” on March 6. Still as the GOP race tightens, Tuesday's Michigan/ Arizona primaries will be super all in their own. The winner of these primaries will have significant momentum heading into the spring contests. 

An NBC/Marist poll out on Wednesday morning has Romney up by 16 points in Arizona: (Romney 43, Santorum 27, Gingrich 16, Paul 11) but is deadlocked with Santorum in Michigan: Romney 37, Santorum 35, Paul 13, Gingrich 8.

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.

Tonight’s GOP battle royale should clear things up.

And we should expect a nasty fight focusing on immigration, gay rights, the economy, contraception, and national security.

The debate will be streamed live here.

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Chris Miles

Chris has worked for media outlets including the Associated Press and Stars and Stripes. He worked with the Clinton Foundation, the United Nations, and with the Kentucky state legislature. He holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Louisville, and a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. He is originally from Lexington, Ky. Kentucky basketball occupies a majority of his free time.

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