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Republican debate: Romney fights to win against surging Santorum

Mitt Romney used Wednesday's Republican debate to go head-to-head with his leading challenger, Rick Santorum.

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Republican debate showdown: Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum (l.) and Mitt Romney talk following a Republican presidential debate Wednesday, in Mesa, Ariz.

Nick Oza/The Arizona Republic/AP

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Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who has emerged as Romney's leading challenger in the Republican presidential race, clashed over the federal government's power Wednesday in a high-stakesdebate that might have been the last in the roller-coaster campaign to challenge President Barack Obama.

The debate was held in the southwestern state of Arizona six days before crucial votes there and in Romney's native state of Michigan. The industrial state is now a must-win for Romney, who won it when he ran in 2008 and had been expected to win there again.

Now, however, Romney faces a surging Santorum, whose candidacy has rebounded in the two weeks since he won three contests on the same day. Romney, meanwhile, still faces skepticism among conservatives who dislike his shifting stances on key issues.

A victory in Michigan — no matter who claims it — would provide essential momentum in the state-by-state race ahead of the 10 contests held on the same day a week later, the huge battle known as Super Tuesday.

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