What to Watch for GOP's Super Debate
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Your favorite Republican presidential candidates will reemerge Wednesday night to joust from their familiar debate podiums.
Mitt Romney has struggled since Rick Santorum engineered three surprise primary victories on Feb. 7 and the former Massachusetts governor surprisingly finds himself deadlocked with the underdog in Michigan, where he grew up.
"If any of the three of us lose our home state -- if Santorum loses Pennsylvania, Romney loses Michigan, or I lose Georgia -- you have what I think is a very, very badly weakened candidacy," Newt Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday."
After a brief drop in Michigan polls, Romney has edged even with Santorum and Wednesday night's debate could have a significant impact on which way the states lean between now and Super Tuesday on March 6. With that in mind, here's what to look for in Wednesday's debate.
Can Mitt Romney connect with humans?
Romney's juggernaut boasts plenty of cash and a presidential-like ground presence across the country, but Wednesday night the former governor will have to prove he's not a robot.
Romney's been wounded before. After a loss in South Carolina, he bounced back against Gingrich in Florida with ad attacks against the former House speaker's congressional record and he highlighted in the debates Gingrich's questionable past work with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
Santorum has proven a more elusive opponent as the former Pennsylvania senator has continued to gain momentum despite attack ads in Michigan that criticized his history of supporting earmarks in Congress. What might be more troublesome for Romney is Santorum's natural connection with voters and Romney's perceived synthetic appeal.
"You got to pass the beer test," Republican strategist Patrick Arnold said, referring to whether or not voters see a candidate as someone they would want to have a beer with. Arnold said the one misstep of Romney's fluent campaign has been its inability to project Romney's "likability."
Can Rick Santorum rally the Conservatives around the Conservative?
Santorum has won delegates and states with a traditionally conservative message, and it continues to be the driving force behind the former senator's ground game.
But Santorum has to convince enough Republicans to submit ballots for him as the conservative party choice in Michigan and the Super Tuesday states. Social conservatives won't be a large enough bloc to push Santorum ahead of Romney, but he knows that Tea Party supporters could become a pivotal group in his victory quest.
Being the Romney-alternative seems like an unstable strategy to clinch the nomination. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all once held the title, and only one of them remains in the race -- Gingrich -- and his chances appear distant.
If Santorum establishes himself in the mind of the Republican electorate as a distinct alternative to Obama who can also prove he has the electable qualities that once made him a U.S. senator in Pennsylvania, he could shock people on March 6. For now, Romney is still the favorite.