Rick Perry, the Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful, may pull out of some televised debates after a string of poor performances.
Perry, a latecomer to the race to become the Republican candidate in the 2012 election, quickly became the frontrunner, before falling behind due to a series of mistakes.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, retains the lead in the national polls, as well as being steps ahead on organisation and fundraising.
Perry’s team are keen to refute the perception that their candidate running scared, saying that the heavy debating schedule is preventing him from spending time with voters. His spokesman, Ray Sullivan, said:
There have been eight Republican debates so far, five since Gov. Perry got in. We certainly respect the process, but when you’ve got eight or nine candidates and 30 seconds to a minute (to answer a question or provide a rebuttal), it takes valuable time away from campaigning in Iowa as those elections approach.
Perry himself has tried to downplay the importance of debates. When Fox News asked if he’d made any mistakes in the race, he said:
These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates. It’s pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one-minute response.
So, you know, if there was a mistake made it was probably ever doing one of the (debates) when all they are interested in is stirring it up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.
Essentially, Perry is returning to the same strategy that helped him to win three elections as governor of Texas. He is well aware that he is not a strong debater, and in previous elections (he has never lost one), he has debated his rivals only when there is no other option. He has relied on his personal charisma and ability to connect with voters personally – but it is hard to see how this will be as effective on a national scale. Televised debates give candidates a huge amount of free media exposure to primary voters who may not otherwise know who they are.
Perry has not ruled out appearing in any debates, but his team say they will decide this on a case by case basis. His decision has sparked much discussion in the US. While some commentators concede that there are too many debates, and that the format does not lend itself to deep discussion, there is unanimous agreement that Perry’s poor performance so far suggests he is simply afraid of coming off badly. A spokesman for his rival Rick Santorum summed up the negative viewpoint:
How can Gov. Perry expect anyone to trust he can take on Obama and the Democratic machine when he thinks debating his fellow Republicans is too tough?
Other candidates could follow his lead and bow out of some debates too, which would reduce this perception. What is certain is that this is a high risk strategy.