Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Rick Perry, whose performance in a series of Republican presidential debates has corresponded with a steep decline in his polling, plans to limit participation in future face-offs ahead of early state nominating contests.
The concession by the Texas governor, made by an aide on CNN last night, could benefit former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has taken a lead over his party’s contestants in the states with the first four primaries and caucuses.
“We’re about 60 days away from votes being cast,” Ray Sullivan, Perry’s communications director, said on CNN. “The candidates need to spend time in Iowa doing those town halls and spending a lot more time with the voters, who oftentimes have the best questions and press the candidates the hardest.”
Romney is leading or virtually tied for the lead in the first four states likely to hold the first voting in January, according to a CNN and Time magazine survey released yesterday. In the poll, he leads in New Hampshire and Florida and is statistically tied for the top spot with Herman Cain in Iowa and South Carolina.
Romney’s campaign released a memo last week noting that Perry’s standing with voters in key states had plummeted while Romney’s had steadily risen after the first series of debates.
“Debates matter,” the Oct. 21 memo from Neil Newhouse, Romney’s pollster, declared. The document, relying on averages of several public polls, asserted that Perry had fallen from 25 percent support before the debates to 8 percent afterward in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida, while Romney had climbed over the same period from 24 percent to 31 percent.
Several Debates Ahead
With three debates scheduled during the first half of November, more are in the works for December and January. A debate held last week in Las Vegas was the eighth such formal encounter for the Republicans since May 5.
“There’s no way that the candidates can do all those debates,” said Sullivan, in a reference to a growing list of proposed debate dates.
A day earlier, Perry had said that his participation in all of the debates was a mistake.
“These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates,” he said on Fox News. “It’s pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one-minute response.”
Sullivan said on CNN that Perry will participate in a debate on Nov. 9 in Michigan. “We’re taking each of these as they come, examining the schedule and examining the opportunities and the opportunity costs,” he said.
Mark Miner, a Perry spokesman, did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment about the prospect that Perry might avoid some debates. One strategist close to the Romney campaign said it’s likely that he will participate.
Perry, 61, was leading national polls of the Republican primary race a month ago. Since then, his standing in surveys has dropped by as much as 20 percentage points, after debate performances he acknowledged were mediocre and as Cain, a former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, gained ground to join Romney as the party’s front-runners.
If Perry is to regain momentum, it most likely will have to start in Iowa, where caucuses begin the contests on Jan. 3.
Perry has the money to take his message directly to voters, as he is starting to do in television advertising in Iowa. He had $15.1 million in his campaign account as of Sept. 30, more than the $14.7 million that Romney reported.
Romney, 64, has questioned Perry’s ability to lead, most recently in an online video that mocked his challenger’s debate performances. It displayed unflattering close-ups that showed Perry appearing to be irate, uncomfortable and confused.
Perry sought to defuse the debate focus with humor as he spoke to about 1,000 social conservatives at a dinner banquet in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 22.
“We are not called to be perfect,” Perry said. “If any of you have watched my debate performances over the last three or four times, you know I am far from perfect.”
--With assistance from Lisa Lerer and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Mark Silva
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