Tonight's CNN debate in Arizona, the 20th of this Republican primary, may be the final one of the Republican primary. Both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have indicated that they are not interested in future ones making this, the potential grand finale, all the more important.
Here are five things to watch for during tonight's debate:
- Rick Santorum will be front and center for the first time, how will he handled the attention?
- Will Newt Gingrich steal the show and return to form?
- How assertive and aggressive will Mitt Romney be?
- Will Ron Paul go after Romney?
- Will immigration be a factor in tonight's debate?
For much of the campaign Santorum has been a sideshow, a distraction from the main event of Romney vs The Not Romney Candidate of the moment. Now he is the Not Romney Candidate and is under more scrutiny than ever before. In recent days Santorum has been under attack for a variety controversial comments ranging from the president's religion to his social conservativism. It is very likely that some of these comments will be brought up during tonight's debate. In previous debates he has proven himself as a solid debater that can hold his own but it is easy to do that when you are not the focus of attention
Nobody has lived and died by debates in this primary more than Newt Gingrich. His victory in the South Carolina debates was largely a result of his debate performances prior to the election there. His failure in Florida was due to a combination of a wave of negative advertising against him and poor debate performances. In order for Gingrich to make an impact in Arizona and Michigan, and most certainly the Super Tuesday states, he needs to remind people why they liked him in the first place .
The Romney campaign hired Michele Bachmann's debate coach before the Florida debates to change things up. The reviews were positive but the two parted ways in earlier February. Will Romney be the same guy we saw in Florida or will this be a return to the pre-Florida Romney?
Ron Paul's campaign has focused its attacks on Gingrich and Santorum while mostly ignoring Romney. According to reports the two have a friendly relationship; their wives are particularly close. In the most recent debates Paul has mixed it up with Santorum over foreign policy matters and TV ads.
Arizona is ground zero for the national debate on immigration and the issue should be featured prominently in tonight's debate. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has made immigration one of the main issues during her term. She presided over the passage of the controversial SB1070 law. Gingrich is the only candidate who has presented a thorough proposal on immigration in a debate so far.
If there are more debates after this one the next is scheduled to take place in Oregon on March 19.
The author is solely responsible for the content.