GOP Presidential Debate in Mesa

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National Politics reporter for the Arizona Republic Dan Nowicki talks about how the race for the GOP presidential nomination is shaping-up just days before a crucial debate in Mesa.

Ted Simons: Mesa will be on the national stage on Wednesday night as Republican presidential candidates debate at the center for the arts, the Mesa center for the arts. It's the last big chance for the candidates to win votes before Arizona's February 28 presidential preference election. Joining me now to talk about how it is shaping is Dan Nowicki, who reports on national politics for the Arizona Republic. Thanks for joining us. How are things? We got the latest poll that shows that things are tightening up.

Dan Nowicki: That's right. Arizona's long been believed to be in the bag for Mitt Romney, but the latest polling shows he might be starting to sweat a bit. The poll came out today, showed it tight within the margin of area. He had a lead over Rick Santorum, who has been surging all over the country, and interesting is that Mitt Romney is a very deep organized in Arizona. He's really the only presidential candidate on the Republican side who does. Rick Santorum has almost no presence here. It's all organic, but he still is surging pretty well in the polls.

Ted Simons: We should mention the last, the public policy polling group. Who are these folks?

Dan Nowicki: They are out of North Carolina. They are a democratic firm. But, they have got a pretty good reputation, and they are one of the few pollsters who come in and, and take the pulse of Arizona, so Arizona relies on them quite a bit.

Ted Simons: What kind of poll is this?

Dan Nowicki:It was an automated poll. They are a democratic version of Rasmussen. And Rasmussen, they, they have a reputation for being more on the Republican side a bit.

Ted Simons: So we got Romney at 36, and Rick Santorum at 33. And well within the margin of error, and Gingrich 16, Ron Paul 9. How does this compare with previous Arizona polls?

Dan Nowicki: Two fairly recent polls, and they showed I think Romney was at 39. And one he was at 38. And Rick Santorum was 31 in both, so certainly tightened since then. I'm told privately by some, Romney sources that, that they think that he has more comfortable lead than, than the, the public polling suggests, but, they are not -- they are not overly optimistic, either, about it.

Ted Simons: Is this poll a bit of a surprise?

Dan Nowicki: Not really a surprise just given the national, you know, tenor of the race, the way that Rick Santorum has been coming on so strong this month.

Ted Simons: So, you got Romney as you mentioned, with quite a base here, and it's a winner take all presidential election. If you come close, you get nothing.So, it would seem as though Rick Santorum would be at a distant, but he's really close.

Dan Nowicki: He is going to do some campaigning in the next couple days. He's going to speak at a Maricopa county GOP luncheon on Tuesday, and he's also going to do a rally on Tuesday. He's going down to Tucson on Wednesday before the debate, so he's, while he's here for the debate, he's going to, to try to get around the states and do some stumping.

Ted Simons: And we should mention, as well, that something that could affect the, the polling, the presidential primary election, is that, is early vote. Occurred before Rick Santorum got the surge.

Dan Nowicki: That could be a blessing for Romney because he's the only candidate chasing ballots in Arizona, who has an early vote strategy, and so a lot of, you know, thousands and thousands of Republicans have voted by mail, you know, even before the latest surge.

Ted Simons: So with this debate, does Rick Santorum surge? How does that impact what we might see on Wednesday night?

Dan Nowicki: This could be the last debate, interestingly enough. CNN canceled their March 1 debate, and there is one last debate on the books for March 19, but people are skeptical about if it will ever happen, so this showdown in Mesa could be the final debate of the Republican season. You think what you will see from Mitt Romney is it will make it a sense of how worried he is, not only about Arizona, but also Michigan, if he really goes after Rick Santorum. I know he's probably still worried if he's more, more presidential and goes after Barack Obama, he's more comfortable.

Ted Simons: The immigration, all the time? As far as this debate is concerned? The big debate?

Dan Nowicki: I think you can count on that. You know it's in Arizona I assume they will have local Arizona color and flavor to the debate, and you can, you can bet immigration is going to come up.

Ted Simons: And last question, are we going to hear anything about this Babeu situation in the debate? Do you think?

Dan Nowicki: That's a good question. I kind of think so. I have no insight into that. But, given it's such a big story nationally, I was on, on national cable channel today, and you know, the national interest, how does this affect Romney, but that's what they wanted to know. Does this hurt Romney?

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Dan Nowicki: It doesn't help them. Timing couldn't have been worse, probably, or right in the, the run up to the Arizona primary, but I think in Arizona, it's a bigger story than Romney, nationally, they are viewing it, you know, as presidential politics prism.

Ted Simons: Are we going to get headlines out of this, or is it going to be one of these things where it comes and goes?

Dan Nowicki: I think we might get some headlines out of this given the high stakes and could the final one, especially for Newt Gingrich. He relies on debates. And he's going to have to swing for the fences on this one maybe.

Ted Simons: Dan, good stuff. Thanks for joining us. The biosciences are a growing part of Arizona's economy. Bioscience private sector jobs have increased 41% in the past ten years. That's significantly higher than the national average. In a moment, we'll hear from the chair of a panel that looks to continue Arizona's growth in bioscience, but first Mike Sauceda tells us about one organization that's key to the state's bioscience industry.

Dan Nowicki:National Politics reporter for the Arizona Republic

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