But fewer debates would probably benefit the other candidates, too. Voters in the early states really do pay close personal attention to candidates, and word gets around if a candidate does well on the stump. Of course, for that to happen, the candidate has to actually be on the stump.
Perry opened the subject the night of Oct. 25 when he told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that it might have been a mistake for him to take part in the debates. "These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates," Perry said. "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 ..."
Perry later pledged to take part in at least five more GOP debates. But spokesman Ray Sullivan says Perry will consider others on a case-by-base basis. "The schedule makes it extremely difficult for candidates to do important retail voter-contact campaigning in the early states," Sullivan says.
The strongest case against Perry's fewer-debates position is that the Republican nominee will have to take on Barack Obama in two or three super-high-stakes debates in October 2012. The party needs to know whether its candidate can hold his own. But voters will know that by the end of the primary season anyway. And being a good campaigner is important, too. Fewer debates would let the GOP candidates do more of that.