GOP presidential candidates are taking the competition to Arizona, which is emerging as a key player in the Republican race.
Arizona, along with Michigan, will hold its presidential primary on Feb. 28. The state’s election will precede 10 other state primaries, which fall on March 6, or “Super Tuesday.”
“Like South Carolina and Florida have built momentum for certain candidates, Arizona will add to that for whoever wins our primary, and I think that’s going to be a little more important than if we were in the mix of a dozen or 20 states, or whatever it is, on Super Tuesday,” said Arizona House Majority Leader Steve Court.
The spotlight has been cast upon Arizona for a few reasons this election season. The state’s primary is earlier than it has been in the past, meaning it will receive more media attention and help set the tone for subsequent elections, according to Barbara Norrander, a professor in the School of Government and Public Policy.
While Arizona does share its primary with Michigan, the GOP candidates will do little campaigning there because it is Mitt Romney’s home state. Romney’s win in Michigan is inevitable, so it would be pointless for other candidates to campaign in that state, according to Norrander.
Arizona is a winner-take-all state as well, meaning that the victor of the primary will claim all of the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention. Previously, the winner received 58 delegates from Arizona, but this year, that number has been sliced in half due to the state’s decision to move its primary to Feb. 28.
“The way it’s happening lately, it (the number of delegates) is kind of more of a formality. So I think having Arizona be more of a player in the primary is probably more important than the delegates,” Court said.
The primary also coincides with the only GOP presidential debate during the entire month of February, which will take place on Feb. 22 at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Ariz. As the debate and the primary draw near, Court said he anticipates the GOP candidates will start to make more appearances in Arizona and the state will see more advertisements.
In late January, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were tied at 32 percent support from Arizona GOP voters, according to a poll by American Research Group Inc. However, after Rick Santorum’s win in Colorado Tuesday, it is unclear who will take Arizona, Court said.
“We don’t know how long the campaign is going to last,” Norrander said. “You can’t predict when that dividing line is going to happen.”
For Lauren Bouton, a political science senior and the president of the College Republicans, the candidates’ political opinions are essentially the same. It is character that distinguishes each candidate, she said.
“I think a lot of people think Romney’s personality is a little more attractive than Gingrich’s,” she said. “He seems to articulate himself better.”
Personalities aside, the GOP candidates will have to prove their commitment to creating jobs and shrinking the federal government if they want to appeal to Arizona voters, Bouton said.
“I’m looking for someone who I honestly believe will fight for smaller government,” she said. “I would like to see a decrease in the federal hand reaching out.”