Tonight’s final debate before the Michigan and Arizona primaries next Tuesday and Super Tuesday a week later could be a telling moment for all the candidates except Ron Paul, who marches to his own drummer. Romney must come out at a minimum without having shot himself in the foot; Santorum appears only to need to stay on message; and Gingrich must reignite his floundering campaign.
What actually may be the most interesting to watch are the reporters’ questions. When the campaign began it was all about fixing the economy and providing the nation with a path out of the recession. With the public now sensing—rightly or wrongly—that the Obama Administration has begun to move the country out of that crisis, this issue will wait until the fall campaign when the Republican nominee can challenge the President as to how he handled the economy.
The focus of late has turned to social issues and the agenda of the Tea Party. Beginning with issues related to conception and abortion to gay marriage to civil unions to public education. Now thanks to the discovery of Santorum’s 2008 speech at Ave Maria University in Florida where he suggested that “Satan is taking over America” the debate about religion has reached a new low. How Santorum deals with this will be critical as his entire array of opponents will be ganging up on him for the first time.
It will be interesting to see if Gingrich will seek to revive his campaign at Santorum’s expense rather than Romney’s as he continues to seek the conservative label. The new Republican base appears to have moved to Santorum who can now take his religious agenda as far as he wants, until he has to eat his words in November.
All of this makes the President and his backers gaining confidence as they watch the polls now improving for Obama personally and for his chances against both Romney and Santorum. What they do know is that all of this is predicated on the fact that one of these four candidates actually gets nominated in Tampa; something that could become less likely very soon.