Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
PHOENIX — Mitt Romney was scheduled to campaign in Arizona on Monday evening as he tries to build on his narrow win in the Maine caucuses over the weekend and secure the Republican presidential nomination.
The former Massachusetts governor was to address an evening rally at an amphitheater in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. Romney's visit is the first by a GOP contender in the run-up to a Feb. 22 televised debate in Mesa and the state's Feb. 28 primary.
Arizona is regarded as friendly territory for Romney, who finished a respectable second in the 2008 primary won by home-state candidate Sen. John McCain.
Many of the people who lined up to enter the amphitheater wore Romney shirts or hats. Mesa homemaker Jenny Davis said she decided early on to support Romney.
"I like the stability that he has and I prefer him to Newt Gingrich," Davis said. "I like his family values — that is my No. 1 thing — and I think he would be very strong on national security issues and has a strong business background."
Kim Standage, a utility company manager, said he was undecided.
"Just trying to figure out the best person to get the economy turned around and somebody who can beat Obama," said Standage, a fifth-generation Mesa resident.
Results announced in Maine on Saturday showed Romney edging Rep. Ron Paul. Earlier in the week, former Sen. Rick Santorum swept three other contests, winning in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.
Romney can't afford to ignore Arizona because his rival's wins or near-misses weaken his argument that his nomination is inevitable, said Richard Herrera, an Arizona State University associate professor of political science.
"It's for him to lose, as it has been all along," Herrera said.
Romney's campaign in Arizona has the highest profile of the GOP contenders, with endorsements from numerous Republican elected officials. Those include McCain, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Attorney General Tom Horne, state House Speaker Andy Tobin and least 20 other state legislators.
Supporters of Santorum, Paul and Gingrich all said they have active grass-roots campaigns in the state. Campaign officials are finalizing arrangements for a Gingrich visit.
The date of Arizona's Feb. 28 winner-take-all primary is set by state law, but its scheduling before April 1 violates the Republican Party's national rules. As a result, the state's normal allotment of 58 delegates is to be halved to 29.
Michigan will also hold a primary Feb. 28. The two contests will then be followed by nominating contests in 10 states on March 3, which is also known as Super Tuesday.
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