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Rick Perry calls debates a 'mistake,' but how can he avoid them?

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Yet his admission to Mr. O'Reilly was an extraordinary one. Presidential debates are a staple of American politics, and in some cases, the most unvarnished and substantial look at candidates that voters ever get.

Yes, the Republican field remains a little crowded, making the debates feel more like dog piles at times. But Romney has weathered the attacks. Mr. Cain exhausted his his fruit references to defend his 9-9-9 plan.

Could Perry, if he were to win the nomination, refuse to debate President Obama? If he were elected, could he hide from the media?

Debating is hardly an impractical skill in the West Wing. Just ask Abe Lincoln.

Perhaps even more extraordinary is that his campaign is hinting that he might skip debates in the future. He has only committed to one of the seven debates scheduled before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

Perry has $17 million in his pocket from fundraising last quarter. Ad money, he has. But it's difficult to imagine how staying away from a debate would be viewed as anything other than an attempt at damage limitation. For a candidate who needs to be on offense, that's a potential problem.

Moreover, how much can targeted ads and hand-shaking do to substantially move his numbers? Debates represent invaluable opportunities to reach broad audiences, with CBS, ABC, and PBS picking up coverage of the next series in addition to the three main cable news networks. Which is he going to skip?

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