A March 1 debate of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates — the 22st of the primary season — collapsed on Thursday after Mitt Romney and Ron Paul declared they preferred to be elsewhere.
CNN just confirmed that it had exercised its option to pull the plug on the event, which was to be held five days before the March 6 Super Tuesday, when Georgia and nine other states go to the polls.
The event was to be co-hosted by the Georgia and Ohio GOP.
“Mitt Romney and Ron Paul told the Georgia Republican Party, Ohio Republican Party and CNN Thursday that they will not participate in the March 1 Republican presidential primary debate,” CNN said in a statement. “Without full participation of all four candidates, CNN will not move forward with the Super Tuesday debate. ”
The statement said CNN and the Arizona Republican Party will host all four leading contenders for the GOP nomination on Feb. 22 in Mesa, Ariz.
Georgia GOP chairman Sue Everhart said both Romney and Paul formally turned down their invitations within minutes of each other this morning.
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg sent this word to my AJC colleague Aaron Sheinin:
Gov. Romney will be spending a lot of time campaigning in Georgia and Ohio ahead of Super Tuesday. 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 8 from CNN.
Here was the immediate reaction from Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, via Twitter:
@MittRomney spits in Georgia’s face and cancels Atlanta debate appearance. #CNN
My AJC colleague Daniel Malloy, with Gingrich in Los Angeles, obtained this response from the candidate:
“Our expectation is we will participate in all the debates. The Romney model is go to Wall Street an raise huge amounts of money to run negative ads, and you can understand why having to defend that strategy is probably not something he’s very happy about.”
One interpretation: This may be in fact an indication of what Romney thinks his current chances are in both Georgia and Ohio.
A Rasmussen poll of Ohio voters has Romney trailing Rick Santorum, 42 to 24 percent. And an AJC poll of Republican voters in Georgia last week had Romney running third behind a rising Santorum.
The former Massachusetts governor has been in Georgia twice in the last four months – but each time, the emphasis was on fund-raising.
Another interpretation: Romney is the candidate with the cash, and this could be his way of denying free media to his financially strapped rivals on the eve of the biggest election day of the primary so far. Georgia and Ohio have the two largest caches of delegates in play on March 6, 76 and 66, respectively.
A tidbit that may be an argument for the latter motive: Earlier this morning, we reported that Santorum was about drop some money on TV ads in Georgia. Now it turns out that it is a small investment — only $55,000 on Fox News, statewide.
Even so, giving up on the state doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Georgia allots its delegates proportionally – by congressional district – and in 2008, Romney ran well in metro Atlanta, and on the coast. He took 30 percent of the vote by winning only nine of 159 counties.
GOP counsel Anne Lewis offered this breakdown of how Georgia Republican delegates to Tampa will be divided:
– 42 come from congressional districts (3 x 14) and are pledged as follows: If a candidate gets more than 50% of the district vote, that person gets all 3 delegates. If no one does, then the top vote getter in the district vote gets 2 and the second place finisher gets 1
– 31 come from the state at large and are pledged as follows: A candidate has to get more than 20% to get any delegates; among those, the candidates get the percentage of delegates equal to the candidate’s percentage of the statewide vote. Any delegates leftover after that are distributed sequentially to those qualified to get any delegates.
– 3 are the RNC man and woman and chairman of the State Party, who are all pledged to the top vote getter statewide.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider