Friday, October 28, 2011

Perry's right: Republicans drowning in debates

Everyone knows why Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to skip some of the coming Republican presidential debates. He's a lousy debater, and the biggest single factor in his fall from front-runner to back-in-the-pack has been his poor performance in a number of high-profile debates.... That said, Perry has a point when he suggests there are just too many debates scheduled in the rapidly dwindling number of days before voters go to the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other key primary states. - Byron York/Washington Examiner (Image source: (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

Until a few weeks ago, there seemed to be lots of time for debating. The Iowa caucuses were set for Feb. 6, with the other contests after that. Then Florida upended the Republican schedule, setting its primary Jan. 31 and forcing the early contests to move to earlier dates. The Iowa caucuses will now be Jan. 3. More than a month of campaign time has been lost; debates that were in the planning stages have been squeezed into a smaller period of time.

The sheer number of debates raises the question of diminishing returns. The early debates helped introduce the candidates to the Republican primary electorate. Later debates will help voters in critical states make their final decisions. But the next few debates, while they might be the occasion for a major gaffe or gotcha, have little purpose....

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.