CNN announced Thursday that it has canceled an upcoming debate after Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum all said they would either not attend or were not planning to attend.
Romney's camp suddenly said Thursday that it was planning to skip the debate, intended for March 1st in Georgia, because he would be "campaigning in other parts of the country" ahead of the packed Super Tuesday primaries on March 6. Ron Paul also announced that he would not be attending. Santorum's spokesman said that his candidate "has no plans of doing it right now."
Faced with a debate without so many participants, CNN said that it was throwing in the towel:
"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. Without full participation of all four candidates, CNN will not move forward with the Super Tuesday debate. However, next week, CNN and the Arizona Republican Party will host all four leading contenders for the GOP nomination. That debate will be held in Mesa, Arizona on February 22 and will be moderated by CNN's John King."
Newt Gingrich —whose entire candidacy has been propelled by his debate performances— was seemingly the only contender who was up for the session. His spokesman, R.C. Hammond, used the cancellation to take some jabs at Romney, tweeting that he had "[spit] in Georgia's face" and asking, "If @MittRomney won't stand up and debate his GOP competitors how will he face President Obama?"
Of course, it's not as if the candidates haven't had a chance to talk to each other about the issues throughout the campaign. Romney's statement on Thursday pointedly said that he had "participated in 20 debates, including 8 on CNN."
The staggering number of debates, and the influence they've had on the GOP contest, has become a key part of the 2012 campaign. Some, such as GOP strategist Karl Rove and Sen. John McCain, have said that the debates have played too prominent a role in the campaign, forcing the candidates to curtail their interactions with voters in favor of time-consuming preparation for the face-offs.
In an interview with HuffPost's Michael Calderone, CNN's Washington bureau chief Sam Feist defended the debates.
"I think they've been great for the process," Feist said. "I think you learn more in a presidential debate than any other way of getting to know a candidate. They're certainly a more valuable way to get to know the candidate for president of the United States than sound bites on newscasts and 30-second ads that are often misleading."