Just hours before primaries in Arizona and Michigan, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum come into view as the two Republican contenders vying for leadership in what may well be the most important phase of the internal processes thus far, which could lead the GOP presidential nomination into a two person race.
On Tuesday, voters will go to the polls in both states to make their pick from the last four candidates of the Republican pack – including Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul; in a preamble to a series of critical contests leading to Super Tuesday, which will consist of three caucuses and seven primaries in 10 states, on March 6.
The latest polls put Romney and Santorum in a virtual tie in both Arizona and Michigan, providing a slight advantage that favors Romney as Tuesday's primary comes near.
But Romney is not showing any worries about Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer, known for her hard line on immigration policy and for signing into law the controversial SB1070, announced her endorsement on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. Other prominent Republican figures backing the former Massachusetts governor include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Romney is instead, focusing on Michigan, where he is running an aggressive TV ad campaign, and where Santorum has gained some terrain. The outcome in Michigan is particularly important as it is expected to significantly impact the campaign. If Romney loses Michigan it will be a huge blow for him since he was born and raised there. As those elements imply a great political value, a potential loss would be more damaging to him than to Santorum, and would be also seen as Romney's inability to attract conservative support in the primaries, or against President Barack Obama in the general election.
Precisely, an Associated Press-Gfk poll released Wednesday found that Obama would potentially defeat any of the “final four” Republican hopefuls and also that the country is showing more optimism about the economy, which has been a main topic in the race.
That explains the GOP’s discourse strategy, which is, has been, and will continue to be based on attacking the Obama administrations’ most vulnerable issues: spending, national debt, lingering levels of unemployment and a sluggish economy.
In national security and foreign policy, on health care or on immigration, whoever is elected as the Republican presidential candidate, will pledge to his constituents not bowing to Saudi kings, skipping apology tours, securing the southern border and of course, challenging Obamacare. In fact, in 2010, that narrative carried the GOP to electoral victory. Through most of 2011, their political discourse kept such tone, which by the way, was also a recurring place during Wednesday’s night debate.
Although, the Arizona stage – possibly the last faceoff of the season- didn’t seem to help Republican candidates after all. It could have been the most important dissertation platform of the entire cycle, the 20th debate. But it wasn’t.
Social media was a good barometer to assess what the Average Joe wanted to hear on that broadcast. Users were amazed that the ‘hot’ topics of economy, job creation were neglected throughout the showdown. It might have to do with the debate’s format design by the network’s production; but still, candidates were in an open stage to take control and make their case, but failed to do so.
Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, and Paul, engaged for nearly two hours in a heated and ineffective debate that resulted in the former Pennsylvania senator losing his recently gained ‘momentum,’ as he spent a considerable portion of his on-air time defending his voting record in the Senate and also his use of earmarks.
The former Massachusetts governor defended the so called Romneycare and displayed a very cynical, yet brilliant trick, turning the table around and blaming Santorum for Obamacare. Santorum took the bait and then went into a long explanation. Tactical error. Not a good way to win undecided conservative Republican voters, which supposed to be the objective.
A specific characteristic of this particular debate was also the absence of a topic important to the region. Strange, as those touring and strategizing in presidential campaigns, know how essential it is to address issues relevant to the place they visit during the campaign trail -despite the host’s prepared questions.
Arizona, a border state where the issue of illegal immigration is critical to many voters, where30 percent of the electorate is Latino, and where a vast majority of them became highly involved in the issue after the passage of SB 1070, saw the topic reduced to border enforcement and to a threat to veto the DREAM Act.
Curiously, the most recent TIME magazine’s cover story features the importance of the Latino vote. The issue released a few days ago, ran its headline in Spanish: “Yo decido (I decide,)” followed by a secondary heading that reads: “Why Latinos will pick the next President.”
Dismissing this vital component, the night was consumed between the candidates’ attacks that little had to do with letting people know what they would do for the U.S., in the event any of them wins the nomination and eventually, the presidency. The hopefuls were tough on immigration, although Gingrich was perhaps the least extreme on the topic.
On the eve of the Michigan and Arizona primaries the candidates’ rhetoric continues to be increasingly personal and vitriolic and if none of them obtains a significant advantage and number of delegates to lead the pack, the fear of Republicans is that they would need to wait until August to hold a brokered convention. Meanwhile, there will be 13 primaries and caucuses between Tuesday, and March 6, the so called Super Tuesday. In such period of time, anything can happen.