Polls Up Pressure on U.S. Presidential Candidates Ahead of Republican Debate

Four remaining GOP candidates to clash in Arizona, in the final debate before the state's vote, and those of Michigan and Super Tuesday.

On Wednesday night, the four remaining GOP candidates, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, will clash again in Mesa, Arizona, in the final debate before the state's vote – and that of Michigan - on February 28. It will also be the last time they clash before Super Tuesday, when ten states will vote on March 6. This alone is enough to make tonight's debate interesting. But the tension-inducing polls will make it even more so.

Several Republican politicians now out of the race to the White House probably have a thing or two to say about how treacherous the polls can be. But, as unlikely as it seemed not so long ago, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum maintains a lead. In Gallup’s Daily tracking poll average last week Santorum led Mitt Romney 36% to 26%. The NBC/Marist poll has shown that in Arizona, which is set to vote this Tuesday, Santorum lags behind Romney in GOP primary, with 27% compared to 43%.

Republican debate, Arizona - 22.2.12 - Reuters

According to the polls, if Romney ran against Obama in Arizona he would get 45% of the votes, while Obama would get 40%. But Rick Santorum, who has been called a "present for Obama" since he is regarded as too conservative for independent voters, would get 45% and Obama would receive 42%, making the former U.S. senator a potentially competitive candidate for the U.S. President in general elections - at least so far as Arizona is concerned.

Rick Santorum, whose rivals finally started paying him some attention – albeit negative - following his victories in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, as well as his rise in the polls, will have to prove he can hold an attack.

Newt Gingrich and his supporters repeatedly bragged at his campaign events about his debating skills. One of his supporters in Orlando, Florida, actually said, "Don't you all just salivate, thinking about Newt debating President Obama? It's my dream, I want to see it happen." For that, Gingrich will need some serious political resurrection - which might yet happen, thanks to the southern states and the generosity of U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

The Republican debate set off on Monday night with a political spar, when Paul accused Santorum of being a "fake" for voting during his term in Senate to raise debt ceiling. Santorum managed to stay calm as he smiled and replied, "I am real, Ron. I am real," adding that he was voted the most fiscally conservative member of Congress. But later into discussing fiscal conservatism and earmarks, Santorum became visibly annoyed by the jabs - especially when he disputed with Romney. Romney asked what Santorum meant when he recently called himself the "severely conservative governor of Massachusetts," said he balanced the budget, cut taxes 19 times and enabled state police to enforce illegal immigration laws so that people who were there illegally could be "taken out of our state."

"My policies in Massachusetts were conservative," Romney said. "In a state that was a relatively liberal state I stood up and said I would stand on the side of life," he added, referring to his current opposition to abortion.

At each debate there is some topic, avidly anticipated by the social networks users, that has nothing to do with serious policy issues, rather with some blunder that preceded the debate. This time, Rick Santorum's 2008 speech at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida, in which he said that “Satan [was] attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

On Tuesday, Santorum defended his past remarks. "I believe in good and evil. “I think if somehow or another, because you’re a person of faith you believe in good and evil a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president,” he told reporters in Phoenix.

But deep into the debate, Satan still had not been mentioned.

This article is continually being updated.