GOP candidate Rick Perry earlier this week called his participation in recent presidential debates a “mistake” when speaking with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News and went on to say “… all they’re interested in is stirring up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.”
Now comes word the Texas governor will skip most of the remaining 11 debates set between now and the end of January. His camp makes the point that the debate format doesn’t allow candidates to lay out their ideas and concepts and Perry himself said he believes his biggest mistake in the campaign to this point was agreeing to take part in the forums at all.
The Perry camp believes they can better shape the message coming out by focusing on print, television and radio advertising combined with a heavy schedule of appearances. Perry has the funds to flood markets with commercials and by controlling the environment in which he answers questions, it will be easier to stay on point but the appearance that Perry is simply avoiding debates because he has had dismal performances may hurt more than having better control of his message helps. On the heels of both Perry and his wife conceding that he is not a skilled debater, this appears to be more of a defensive move to insulate and better protect Perry in an attempt to avoid continued missteps during interaction with his GOP opponents.
The decision to back off participation in upcoming debates is a strategy that Perry has used successfully in Texas campaigns, where he frequently declined to debate his gubernatorial opponents and never lost an election. It remains to be seen if Perry’s move will prove to be as successful on the national stage has it has been in Texas.
With most of the upcoming forums in key primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, the question becomes this; is it possible for a top tier candidate to skip debates in key states without doing damage to their chances in that state? Perry has seen his support fall from its peak (32%) six weeks ago to single digits (6%) in the CBS News/NY Times poll and he has decided to follow the strategy he used in winning his campaigns in Texas.
Perry’s communications director Ray Sullivan told CNN there are too many debates scheduled and it prevents candidates from focusing on traditional campaigning. He went on to say “There’s no way that the candidates can do all of those debates.” Sullivan indicated the campaign will decide on a case by case basis which debates to take part in and which to skip. A top aide told CNN’s John King that Perry will take part in the November 9th debate in Michigan but may not commit to many more after that.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both suggested it is a sign of weakness for Perry to pass on some future debates.
Santorum said “I’d never skip a debate. I’d never skip the opportunity to let the American public know what I think about these issues.”, while Gingrich suggested that Perry’s reluctance raises questions about his fitness for the fall campaign. “I don’t see how somebody can say that they can’t debate Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, but they’ll be ready to debate Barack Obama.” Gingrich continued “I think that frankly he’d look pretty silly.”
Related: Fox News, CBS News/NY Times polls confirm Cain as GOP front-runner
The first votes will be cast on January 3rd in Iowa- the same night as the BCS Sugar Bowl.
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