Rick Perry, the former front-runner for the Republican presidential candidacy, is considering pulling out of the contest’s remaining televised debates following a string of weak performances.
By Jon Swaine, New York
3:40PM BST 27 Oct 2011
The Governor of Texas, who briefly led the party field after entering to great fanfare in August, has seen his poll numbers collapse after appearing unconvincing during several debates around the US.
An average of national polls now puts his support at just 10.5 per cent, against roughly 25 per cent for both Herman Cain, the pizza restaurant tycoon, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
A spokesman for Mr Perry said that from now on he would “evaluate each debate as it comes and take each one on its own merits,” rather than commit to all of them as had been assumed.
The statement came after the governor admitted his frustration at his performances during a televised interview in which he said the debates were “set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates”.
“It is pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one minute response,” Mr Perry said. “If there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one”.
Rick Perry’s debates: how he has fared so far 27 Oct 2011
Rick Perry: a campaign of gaffes and mis-steps 27 Oct 2011
The decision may help Mr Perry – who had only performed in live debates four times during his 10 years as governor – bring an end to a series of missteps that appeared to damage his campaign.
Earlier this month, following a two-hour debate on the economy in New Hampshire from which he remained largely absent, Mr Perry admitted: “Debates are not my strong suit”.
During a debate last month in Florida, he bungled a set-piece criticism of Mr Romney, the favourite to win the nomination, whom he seeks to portray as an inconsistent flip-flopper.
“Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of … against … the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment … was it was … before he was before these social programmes,” Mr Perry asked.
During the same debate he was also booed by conservatives after saying that his opponents did not “have a heart” if they opposed giving subsidised education to the children of illegal immigrants.
Freed from having to travel to debates and prepare for intense questioning, Mr Perry could instead play to his strengths of trying to convince people face-to-face with his folksy charm.
He will concentrate on town hall-style events and “spending a lot more time with the voters, who oftentimes have the best questions and press the candidates the hardest”, an aide told CNN.
This week Mr Perry has taken a notably different tack by making more strident criticisms of gaffes by Mr Romney. He has also been accused of reigniting the saga about Barack Obama’s birthplace.
Asked why he had told a magazine interview that he did not have “any idea” if Mr Obama’s US birth certificate was genuine, Mr Perry said it was “fun to poke him a little bit” on the topic.
However any decision to abandon the debates could be pounced upon by Mr Romney, a much more accomplished debater, as proof that Mr Perry is running scared from one of the campaign’s toughest tests.
It may also be of serious concern to party strategists, as the eventual nominee will be forced to debate Barack Obama in a series of different live televised formats before next year’s election. The last three presidential elections have all featured three debates between the candidates.
Mr Perry is due to appear at the next debate, in Michigan on November 9. But it is now unclear if he will attend the five more planned before voters begin having their say at the Iowa caucuses in January.