The Washington Post

A big day in the GOP primary tomorrow — what should you watch for?

Tomorrow night’s GOP debate in Arizona may be crucial in determining what the rest of the contest looks like. It could help decide when the eventual GOP nominee will be able to pivot to general election mode and how damaged he may be.

It’s the last debate before the crucial Arizona and Michigan primaries next Tuesday, and then Super Tuesday on March 6. It will probably be the last chance for anyone to really break through and seriously change what’s happening. So: What are each of the candidate’s goals?

Mitt Romney: He doesn’t want the debate to be the story. He wants to fight this campaign out in the arena of TV ads, where he holds a huge financial advantage. So his goal is to continue amplifying the message in the ads — hitting Santorum as being too “inside Washington” — while avoiding rocking the boat.

Also: Santorum has been landing effective punches on Romneycare; the Mittster needs to have a much better prepared comeback than he’s used so far.

Rick Santorum: He comes into the debate with a clear national polling lead, but having lost the momentum in Arizona and Michigan, where he’s being heavily outspent. The trick for him is twofold. He has to get away from contraception and other fringe social conservative issues (he has those votes locked up), and find an economic message that works for all conservatives.

At the same time, Santorum has spent most of the time at the debates trying to force his way into the conversation. Now that he’ll be center stage, it’s time for him to be a bit more presidential — and a bit more likeable.

Ron Paul: He has been attacking Santorum in ads. If he really wants to hit Santorum, the trick for him is to stick to spending issues where he’s to the right of the former Pennsylvania Senator — and to avoid foreign policy, civil liberties, and other issues where Santorum has successfully picked fights with Paul in previous debates, and which play well (in Republican primaries) for Santorum.

Newt Gingrich: He needs a Gingrich moment, such as an attack on the debate moderator that makes Republican voters squeal. His only chance to remain relevant is to win back votes in the South that are probably going to Santorum. If he doesn’t, he may drop out after Super Tuesday — giving Santorum a chance to consolidate conservative voters against Romney.

Debates never stand alone — these candidates are spending tons of money in the hotly contested states, and press coverage of the rest of the campaign matters a lot, too. But debates certainly have been important in this cycle, and I suspect we’ll have plenty of fireworks in Arizona.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Don’t be ‘that’ sports parent | On Parenting
Miss Manners: The technology's changed, but the rules are the same
A flood of refugees from Syria but only a trickle to America
Play Videos
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
Kids share best advice from mom
Using Fitbit to help kids lose weight
Play Videos
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
Transgender swimmer now on Harvard men's team
Portland's most important meal of the day
Play Videos
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
The signature drink of New Orleans