Romney, Santorum Back Out of Debate?

Mitt Romney was the first to announce earlier this afternoon he’ll skip the March 1 CNN Georgia debate:

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul emails over to confirm, “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 6, 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.”

CBS NJ’s Sarah Boxer, who broke the story on Mitt backing out, now reports that Rick Santorum “has no plans of doing [the debate] right now,” according to his spokesperson.

It doesn’t make sense for Santorum to do the debate if Romney isn’t participating, as it would likely turn into a slap-fest between him and Newt Gingrich, which Santorum doesn’t need right now. Also, if CNN had decided to cancel the event after Romney dropped out, it would have undercut Santorum’s attempts to position himself as the Republican frontrunner.

The biggest loser from all this? Clearly Gingrich. The debates are where he shines, and the less debates between now and Super Tuesday, the less of a chance he has of regaining the ground he lost after South Carolina.

Romney previously criticized the number of debates the candidates have had to participate in, and hinted he might start sitting some out. This move shows the candidates now have more sway than the networks when it comes to deciding when and where they debate each other.