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GOP Arizona debate: 3 things we learned

How did the Republican candidates fare in the final debate before Super Tuesday?

The Republican candidates met in Mesa, Arizona last night for another debate ahead of the state primary on 28 February. This was the 20th televised meet of the GOP Presidential hopefuls, and arguably the most vital debate yet. As Rebecca Lloyd noted yesterday, wins in Arizona and Michigan would cement Mitt Romney's place as frontrunner; victories for Rick Santorum -- behind in delegate votes but ahead in the polls -- would mean Romney has lost more states than he has won, demonstrating his serious disconnect with the conservative right.

1) Newt's now a non-starter

Newt Gingrich has slipped well behind in the polls (his delegate count, too, is lagging), and whilst his performance last night will have done little to change this, Ginger Gibson at Policito felt the former House Speaker actually won the debate. "Staying above the fray, avoiding attacks and focusing on the issues" may have been made for a successful performance, but as this one word answer shows (equal parts puerile and unbelievable), Gingrich's days of domineering in the race are done.

 

2) Santorum couldn't pull it off

Last night was the sweater-vest-wearing former Senator's chance to build on his momentum gathered over recent weeks, and in this he decisively failed. "Take a look in the mirror!" was just one of Romney's successful chastisements of his rival -- even though, in strangely convoluted terms, he was holding Santorum wholly responsible for Obamacare having once voted for a pro-choice senator.

3) Close seats made for uncomfortable viewing

What happened to the podiums? Bunched-together seating on the CNN stage had the four candidates within shoulder-patting distance of one another, and this proxomity made all the more obvious their mutual dislike.

Santorum bared an all-American smile on screen whilst Ron Paul, to his immediate right, slammed him as "a fake". And the body language (arms flying and fingers pointing) during a clash over earmarks demonstrated just how divided the Republican party these days appears to be.