The Romney campaign has been hinting for over a month that it might start declining invitations to candidate debates. It doesn't come as too big a surprise, then, that the former governor has decided to skip CNN's March 1 debate in Atlanta.
"With eight other states voting on March 6th, we will be campaigning in other parts of the country and unable to schedule the CNN Georgia debate," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "We have participated in 20 debates, including 8 from CNN."The March 1 debate is second-to-last debate before Super Tuesday on March 6. There are a total of three debates between now and Super Tuesday.
One could make the case that Romney and his aides aren't necessarily hiding, but rather, they just don't see the value in this seemingly endless stream of debates.
But I think that's a far-too-generous interpretation. Put it this way: if Romney were excelling in recent debates, and wowing Republican voters in every appearance, is there any way in the world he'd consider blowing off such an opportunity? It seems highly unlikely. In fact, for months, Romney was seen as easily the best debater in the field, and at the time, it seemed as if he couldn't wait for the next one.
Then his rivals started getting applause, and all of a sudden, Team Romney isn't so sure these debates are such a great idea after all.
The "scheduling" explanation also seems thin. This event in Atlanta was scheduled quite a while ago, and the campaigns knew it was coming. The more likely rationale is that Romney, in a bit of a panic and aware of his dwindling favorability ratings, no longer feels confident that these settings work to his advantage.
There is, however, a risk from bowing out. How soon will it be before Republican insiders start asking themselves, "If Romney lacks the confidence to debate, what will he do when he's up against President Obama?"