Rick Perry may skip some upcoming GOP presidential debates, sidestepping a campaign staple that hasn't been kind to the Texas governor in his first two months on the national stage. It's a decision that ultimately could cause other Republicans to bow out of the more than half-dozen face-offs scheduled between now and the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.
Perry does plan to participate in a Nov. 9 debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. -- his sixth -- but he hasn't committed to any others beyond that as political advisers hunker down to determine how best to proceed. He's juggling fundraising and retail campaigning with only two months before the first votes in the Republican nomination fight are cast.
"We haven't said no, but we're looking at each debate," campaign spokesman Mark Miner said Thursday. "There are numerous -- 15, 16, 17 -- debates, and we're taking a look at each one and we're making the appropriate consideration."
He said that "while debates are part of the process, they're just one part."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered the Republican candidate to beat because of his leads in national polls, fundraising and organization, also has not committed to debating beyond Michigan. His campaign has made debate commitments on a case-by-case basis depending on how each fits his schedule and strategy. For instance, he skipped the leadoff debate in South Carolina in June when the GOP field was still gelling and few top-tier candidates participated.
For Perry, who is not nearly as well-known as Romney, there's more to it than time management.
As he reboots his fledgling campaign, Perry clearly also is trying to reintroduce himself to the nation on his own terms. After a couple of recent rocky debate performances hurt his poll standings, he's returning to the play-it-safe strategy he successfully employed in running three times for governor of Texas.
The state's longest-serving governor, he never has lost an election and has debated his rivals only when it couldn't be avoided. He has long conceded he's not a strong debater, and he contends that his up-close charisma and ability to take a more personalized message directly to voters is the key to his success.
Rival campaigns jumped on Perry.
"You have to go to debates if you want to succeed in the new era," chided Steve Grubbs, chairman of Herman Cain's Iowa campaign. But Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, a former aide to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said Perry must play to his strength, not his weakness.
In the debates so far, Perry has flubbed ready-made attack lines and rambled through answers. He's looked unprepared, if not angry and confused at times. And, in one debate in which Perry's advisers thought he had shown improvement, observers tagged him as a bully.