WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A planned March 1 debate of Republican presidential candidates in Atlanta was at risk of being canceled on Thursday after Mitt Romney dropped out of it and the campaigns for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum expressed doubt they would attend.
The CNN-sponsored debate is scheduled to take place in Newt Gingrich's home state of Georgia. Of the four remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only Gingrich, who has generally done well in the debates, was definitely scheduled to attend.
The Republican state-by-state campaign to seek a challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in November's election has been heavily reliant on debates. A debate next Tuesday in Mesa, Arizona, will be the 20th, that one also sponsored by CNN.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Romney would be spending a lot of time campaigning in Georgia and Ohio before the March 6 Super Tuesday contests.
"With eight other states voting on March 6th, we will be campaigning in other parts of the country and unable to schedule the CNN Georgia debate. We have participated in 20 debates, including eight from CNN," she said.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Gingrich would attend alongside "Mitt's empty podium."
Hogan Gidley, spokesman for Santorum, said the Santorum campaign had not confirmed its attendance for the debate. Gary Howard, spokesman for Paul, said Paul would probably skip it.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)