Mesa, Arizona (CNN) - Is Mitt Romney starting to surge in Arizona?
A new poll released Wednesday, six days before the state's primary, indicates the former Massachusetts governor is holding a 16 point lead over former Sen. Rick Santorum.
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According to the NBC News/Marist survey, 43% of people likely to vote in Arizona's GOP presidential contest say they are backing Romney, with 27% supporting Santorum, 16% backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 11% behind Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
The survey was conducted Sunday and Monday and its release came hours before a GOP presidential debate hosted by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center. The showdown is the first in nearly a month and 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 Super Tuesday on March 6.
A CNN/Time/ORC International poll released Tuesday indicated a closer race in Arizona, with Romney at 36%, Santorum at 32%, Gingrich at 18% and Paul at 6%. Romney's four-point advantage is within the survey's sampling error.
The CNN survey was conducted Friday through Monday, and when you break down the numbers, Romney appears to gain ground while Santorum loses support. Looking just at the sample from Friday and Saturday, Santorum edges out Romney 36%-35%. But the figures from Sunday and Monday tell a different story, with Romney holding a 38%-26% advantage over Santorum.
"That pattern reflects what several other publicly-released polls indicate," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Other polls that include data from last week show a fairly close race, but polls that were done entirely this week show double-digit leads for Romney. The interviews conducted in the CNN/Time poll straddled both periods."
Winning Arizona is extremely important, as the 29 delegates at stake in the primary are winner-take-all.
The CNN/Time poll was conducted by ORC International from February 17-20, with 467 registered Republicans who are likely to vote in the Arizona GOP presidential primary questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4.5% points for the overall sample and plus or minus seven percentage points for the Friday-Saturday and Sunday-Monday breakdowns.
The NBC News-Marist poll in Arizona was conducted February 19-20, with 2,487 registered voters, including 767 likely Republican primary voters, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error for GOP primary questions is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, with an overall sampling error of two percentage points.
– Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PsteinhauserCNN