All political eyes are on Arizona as the Republican presidential candidates come calling.
First is a nationally televised debate on Wednesday in Mesa. Following it will be expected campaign appearances by one or more of the remaining four GOP candidates and the Feb. 28 winner-take-all GOP presidential primary election for the state's 29 convention delegates.
Arizona is at the pivot point in the Republican presidential nominating process, a dream come true for state political leaders who endured a national party penalty to move the primary election earlier on the election-year calendar. The state lost half its convention delegates for defying the national party by setting the early date.
GOP national committeeman Bruce Ash told Arizona Week that the delegate loss was worthwhile because it got Arizona the upcoming debate, putting focus on the state's Republican credentials.
As for the state's role in helping decide on the nominee, Ash said he expects Mitt Romney to win Arizona and that the primaries after it, into April, will settle on a nominee long before the convention.
“I still don’t think we’re going to have a brokered convention," Ash said. "I’d say our chances of that, right now, are probably less than 30 percent. After the Arizona and Michigan primaries, though, on the 28th, we’ll see what happens then.”
Carolyn Cox, chair of the Pima County Republican party, said she thought the surge by Rick Santorum and a good debate performance could help him threaten Romney's top spot.
The debate will be of high importance nationally as well as in Arizona, Cox said.
“Since this is the last debate that they’re going to do, I think it’ll be very important not only here but nationally as well," she said. "I think there will be a lot of people watching it.”
Ash, who as chair of the Republican National Committee's rules committee had to impose the delegate-loss penalty on his home state, said he thinks Arizona will get them back.
"I think that we were unfairly lumped into a penalty situation," he said. "We will file an action, and it will be heard by the contest committee at the convention. We will elect our entire delegation, and we expect to be seated at the national convention."
Reporter Michael Chihak further previews the coming presidential debate and the primary election in the Feb. 17, 2012 issue of Arizona Week. Watch it now: