Mesa, Arizona (CNN) — Twenty-seven days. That’s how long it has been between the 19th and 20th Republican presidential debates.
But that ends Wednesday, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas face off at a debate hosted by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center.
A lot has changed in the battle for the GOP nomination since the last debate, a CNN-Republican Party of Florida showdown in Jacksonville on January 26. Romney went on to win big in Florida and Nevada, while Gingrich, who had just scored an impressive victory in South Carolina, faded fast.
Then Santorum surged in state and national polling after sweeping the February 7th contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
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The debate Wednesday is the last time the candidates will share a stage before primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday, before Washington state holds a contest on March 3, and before 10 more states hold primaries or caucuses on March 6.
“The stakes are enormous, not just because there’s been no debate for a month, but also because no more are scheduled before Super Tuesday,” CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley said. “For Gingrich, Paul, Santorum and Romney, this may be the last chance to make another impression.”
Santorum, once a long shot, currently tops national polling and is neck-and-neck with Romney in the latest surveys in Arizona and Michigan.