Nothing on the wires yet but Red State chief/CNN contributor Erick Erickson says the scoop comes straight from the top of the Georgia Republican Party.
GA GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart tells me Mitt Romney will not participate in the GA GOP debate prior to Super Tuesday.
The Georgia GOP is co-sponsoring the debate with CNN so Everhart’s in a position to know. Also, remember this Byron York piece from last month? Romney’s team has been grumbling about the debates for awhile now:
“There are too many of these,” Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said after Monday night’s Fox News debate at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. “We have to bring some order to it. We haven’t accepted Florida…It’s kind of like a cruise that’s gone on too long.”…
As part of his complaint against the current debate schedule, Stevens expressed lingering irritation at the January 7 ABC News debate in New Hampshire, in which Romney faced a long a tendentious series of questions about contraception. (“It was such a lousy debate,” Stevens said.) More generally, Stevens suggested that in the long course of the campaign, this year’s key issues have been exhausted. “We’re down to the most obscure questions,” he said. “When more than ten debates mention Chilean models, and it’s not a fashion show, then something’s wrong.”
That was published on January 17, the day after Gingrich revived his candidacy by sparring with Juan Williams at the Fox News debate in South Carolina. Team Romney was grumpy about having to play to Newt’s strengths by participating in so many of these pageants — but they kept on participating anyway, and Romney recovered well enough to stomp Gingrich at both Florida debates and win the state. That being so, it’s baffling that he’d pull out of Georgia. Yeah, granted, he’s an almost certain loser in a southern stronghold that’s likely to split between native son Newt and social con Santorum, but this isn’t just any debate. It’s the last one before Super Tuesday so there’s almost no chance of it being canceled; even without Romney there, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul will be eager to use the platform to make their closing arguments before the big vote five days later. With Mitt absent, they can take as many free shots at him as they want. He risks coming off as the arrogant establishment presumptive nominee who needn’t deign to show up at all the events the others bother with. Given the problems he expects to have turning out the base in November, why would he snub the south?
What am I missing here? Is Romney calculating that, if left alone onstage, Santorum and Gingrich will have no choice but to tear each other apart? Mitt actually needs a Newt comeback right now in order to pull Santorum back down to earth and keep the conservative vote split, and with Romney less of a threat in the south than Santorum is, Gingrich really has no choice but to focus his attacks on his “junior partner.” I guess Romney figures that giving Newt extra time in the spotlight to tear into Sweater Vest is the best thing he can do for his own candidacy right now, even if it means taking a beating there between them in absentia. That’s cynical. But that’s Mitt for you.
Erick hasn’t posted on this yet but there’s bound to be something at Red State shortly. I’ll update when there is.
Update: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is hearing this too, and notes: “Contracts among the players in a debate – the hosts and the broadcasting unit – typically include an escape clause that would permit CNN to dump the enterprise if one or more of the prime candidate refuses to show.” Won’t the rest of the field be anxious to go on with the show, though? Romney could have bigfooted a network into cancelling a debate by pulling out a few weeks ago, maybe, but now CNN’s got the new frontrunner plus Gingrich on his home turf ready to go.
Update: Erick was right. Team Mitt says he’s passing.
Update: I’m dumbfounded. From CBS reporter Lindsey Boerma:
Romney isn’t alone on skipping March 1 debate it GA, it seems. Santorum “has no plans of doing it right now,” spox tells me.
Why on earth wouldn’t Santorum want a free microphone to dump on Romney before Super Tuesday? Sure, Newt’s going to win Georgia anyway. So what? Mystifying.
Update: According to Ethan Klapper of National Journal, the debate is kaput. Amazing. I guess Santorum calculated that, with Romney gone, he’d be better off cutting Newt’s oxygen by skipping the debate too in hopes that CNN would cancel. Mission accomplished.