Mitt Romney has always counted on winning the Arizona Republican primary, but a new poll has Rick Santorum closing the gap ahead of Wednesday's GOP debate.
While polls in recent weeks have suggested that Mitt Romney is vulnerable to Rick Santorum in his home state of Michigan, he has always counted on winning at least one state in next week's primaries: Arizona.
It's a Western state with a sizeable Mormon population; its Republicans are less socially conservative and more Libertarian than in some Midwest states where Santorum does well; and Mr. Romney has been well ahead in all polls there.
The poll has Romney with 36 percent of likely primary voters, compared with Santorum at 32 percent. Newt Gingrich has 18 percent, Ron Paul has 6 percent, and 6 percent are undecided. The 4 percent difference between Romney and Santorum is within the poll's margin of error – meaning they're essentially tied.
And it will be a critical debate for both Romney and Santorum. According to the CNN poll, about one-third of voters are still open to changing their mind in the next week.
Next week's contests will also be the first chance to see if Santorum can win in a primary election, rather than a caucus. The major states he's won so far have all been caucus states – which tend to emphasize the favorite candidate of more extreme, impassioned voters. These contests have been tough on Romney, who inspires less enthusiasm even among his supporters.