State Capitol News
1:40 pm
Mon February 20, 2012

Santorum Gaining in AZ Primary Race

Rick Santorum appears to have pulled within striking distance of Mitt Romney here with just a week to go to the state's presidential primary. 

The survey by Public Policy Polling finds Romney the choice a 36 percent of likely Arizona Republican voters questioned, with Santorum just three points behind. That's well within the poll's margin of error.

Dustin Ingalls, the poll's assistant director, said that makes Wednesday's debate all that more important.

"I think Santorum needs to basically convince voters that he can be elected, that he is the sort of satisfying conservative candidate they're looking for who can beat Romney and beat the president." said Ingalls. 

Conversely, Ingalls said Romney needs to use the debate to, as he put it, knock Santorum down a peg. With the front runners so close, the backing of a top GOP official might help. But Ingalls said he's not sure how much, noting only 25 percent of those asked said they would be more likely to support a candidate backed by Gov. Jan Brewer -- and 21 percent who said it would cause them to vote the other way.

"There are some voters that sort of elite endorsement can be a cue to. But the 54 percent on Brewer's endorsement who say that her endorsement wouldn't make a difference to them is probably pretty accurate, he said."

The poll also finds Newt Gingrich far back at 16 percent, and Ron Paul the choice of only 9 percent of Republicans surveyed.