Tuesday's upcoming Republican Presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona could offer some key insights into the minds of the GOP electorate ahead of the March 6th "Super Tuesday" contests.
For Mitt Romney, who leads in most of the recent polls in both states, the contests represent a chance to re-cement his status as the preeminent candidate in the field of four remaining contenders.
Especially in Arizona's winner-take-all primary, where Romney holds a relatively commanding lead in the most recent polling data, the former Massachusetts Governor seems likely to add another 29 delegates to his established lead over his opponents.
It should be noted, however, that the delegates awarded so far - with Romney in the lead at 99 - are just a small fraction of the 1,144 needed to claim the nomination.
Results in Michigan may prove more varied, as some recent polls showed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who in recent weeks has emerged as Romney's chief rival, as leading the field.
Other polls put Romney at a slight advantage over Santorum, but even a solid second place finish in Michigan could win Santorum some much needed delegates and even more needed momentum going forward.
However, the polls so far have been taken prior to Wednesday's GOP presidential debate in Arizona, where Santorum was notably on the defensive. Many commentators believe that Santorum performed well, but the effect of the debate on GOP primary voters remains to be seen.
For former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Tuesday's contests could mark the beginning of the end of a candidacy that has seen him rise and fall several times.
If, as the polls predict, Gingrich comes in a distant third in Arizona and last in Michigan, the former speaker will likely have a hard time convincing Republican activists and (perhaps most importantly) donors that he remains a viable alternative to Romney.
And if Gingrich's support falls away after Tuesday, it seems hard to envision a path that would allow him to claim the victories he would need in the 10 states voting on March 6th to re-energize his campaign.
For Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the contests in Michigan and Arizona will not likely prove consequential.
Paul, always a long-shot candidate to win the nomination, nonetheless has a strong base of committed supporters and enough small donors around the country to keep his campaign funded as long as he chooses to remain in the race.
Ultimately, however, the contests in Michigan and Arizona will likely provide little more than a preview of what may come in the "Super Tuesday" contests- a possible indicator of where the winds are turning in what has already proved to be an unusually volatile Republican Presidential primary race.
by RTT Staff Writer
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