Forget March 6; the new Super Tuesday is Feb. 28.
And if Super Tuesday is now Feb. 28, tonight’s debate in Arizona might as well be called Super Wednesday.
The CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll out Tuesday showed Romney leading Rick Santorum within the margin of error, 36 percent to 32 percent.
It all makes the stakes for tonight’s debate in Phoenix about as high as they could be for the erstwhile frontrunner.
The reasons are legion.
First, this might be the final debate of the GOP presidential race — or at least, the last debate for a while. There are no other debates scheduled before the real Super Tuesday on March 6, and Romney’s campaign has not committed to a planned March 19 debate in Oregon.
Indeed, Romney’s campaign looks as though be done with debates altogether, citing the overwhelming number of them in declining to attend a scheduled forum in Georgia next week. That debate fell apart, and without Romney, future debates would as well.
Second, while a loss in Michigan would represent a major setback for Romney — given that it’s a state he calls “home” — a loss in Arizona would be potentially disastrous.
Romney’s campaign has been able to make a credible argument that the Feb. 7 caucus losses were aberrations based on low turnout and that it didn’t really try that hard in the three states holding contests that day. That case goes out the window if he loses higher-turnout primaries in two states where he should have the edge.
While Michigan is his home state, Arizona has a significant Mormon population, and the last state with a significant Mormon population, Nevada, delivered him about 50 percent of the vote and a huge win.
Third, Romney could also lose the Washington caucuses on March 3, where piecemeal polling has shown a competitive race. If Romney lost there after being swept on Feb. 28, it would be his sixth loss in seven contests heading into Super Tuesday — likely all to Santorum.
At that point, his status as frontrunner would likely be gone, and it would be Santorum’s race to lose.
And finally, debates provide an unmatched forum. Romney’s campaign hoped its monetary advantage would save it in Michigan and Arizona, but that hasn’t been the case, at least so far.
Debates in the presidential race have been the best way to turn the race on a dime. While Romney’s campaign has done its best to try and define Santorum with advertising, he’ll have his best opportunity to bring the fight to Santorum at tonight’s debate.
The next debate is always the biggest debate. But tonight, it’s doubly true.
Gingrich to skip Michigan: Newt Gingrich’s campaign has said it would put forth some effort in Michigan, but now that’s no longer the case.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gingrich no longer plans to visit the Great Lakes State before Tuesday’s primary, and he’s only spending time in Arizona this week because that’s where the debate is taking place. Gingrich is instead focusing almost solely on Super Tuesday in an effort to get his campaign back on track.
As we wrote last week and in a story in today’s paper, though, this would seem to open the door wide for Santorum to beat Romney one-on-one, whereas Gingrich might have otherwise split the anti-Romney vote. But Gingrich also risked further embarrassment by showing up and then performing poorly.
Republican voters want a nominee: GOP voters may be drawing out the presidential nominating contest, but they don’t want to drag it out till the convention.
A new Gallup poll finds that two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans want their nominee determined before the convention, while less than one-third (29 percent) want the nominee to be determined at the convention.
Or maybe it’s more interesting that nearly one-third of Republican s would actually like to draw it out that far — something that most in the party establishment see as a nightmare scenario.
Romney makes a curious comment for a Republican candidate: That spending cuts slow economic growth.
Ann Romney says her husband was hesitant to run for president.
A top Romney supporter in Arizona expresses his dismay with Romney’s campaign.
More evidence of Romney’s struggles with working class voters.
The Supreme Court takes up affirmative action.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), a potential vice presidential candidate, backs off his support for a bill that would require women to have ultrasounds before getting an abortion.
Former Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink (D) is talking about a rematch with Gov. Rick Scott (R).
Donald Trump says he may run as a third-party candidate if Santorum wins the nomination.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) launches an ad against primary opponent Richard Mourdock.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) endorses Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) in his primary with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).
“Inside the super PACs money deluge” — Phil Hirschkorn and Laura Strickler, CBS News
“Mayor Villaraigosa’s Sights Set Beyond Los Angeles” — Adam Nagourney, New York Times
“Super PAC donors revealed: Who are the power players in the GOP primary?” — Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam, Washington Post