MESA, Arizona—The Republican presidential candidates are facing off tonight in what is being called the “season finale” after 9 months and 19 debates.
All eyes are on Mitt Romney, the many-times-over-inevitable candidate who has been unable to seal the deal. He and Rick Santorum are in a statistical tie in Michigan, and the former Pennsylvania senator is catching up in Arizona.
Romney turned around months of poor debate performances in Florida earlier this month. Tonight needs to seem more presidential than his opponents — while sticking in the knife sharply enough that his attack makes a difference in Michigan.
Like his campaign as a whole, Santorum’s debate performances have been slow and steady. He’s been on the sidelines in most of the debates so far, but he’ll be front-and-center tonight. But he’ll be under fire from the get-go, and will be called to answer for a series of campaign gaffes and controversial statements in recent days — most notably yesterday’s revelation that he believes the country is under attack from Satan. If Santorum can brush off the attacks, Romney may be in for a long night.
Newt Gingrich has been hemorrhaging support, but we’ve all seen what he can do on the debate stage when he feels he’s been backed into a corner. He’s perhaps the biggest wildcard tonight: he can play kingmaker by deciding which of his opponents to attack.
Ron Paul has done Mitt Romney’s dirty work in the past several debates, attacking Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. He’s increasingly been marginalized in the debates, especially now that he’s polling in last place.
We’ll be bringing you the latest from the debate all night. Check for the latest.