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Perry camp defends stance to possibly forgo debates

Rick Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan set off a flurry of punditry yesterday when he said on CNN that the campaign may skip some of the upcoming debates in favor of retail politicking.

Here's what Sullivan told NBC News today in defense of the campaign's decision to consider skipping future debates:

"We are committed to CNBC Nov 9th. We haven't declined any to date. There have been eight GOP primary debates to date, with 16 more scheduled over the next 12 weeks. We need to determine on a case-by-case basis whether and how these fit into our schedule given the pressing need to meet actual voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and other early voting states."

He didn't answer specific questions about what criteria would need to be met to participate in a given debate. But asked to respond to critics who say this strategy essentially avoids rather than confronts an obvious weakness for the candidate, Sullivan said:

"We have done five debates and will do more. We have had tough questions at the debates and will at future debates. The voters and media of Iowa, NH, SC and FL ask tough questions too and we need time to campaign on the ground in those early primary states."

The campaign has been frustrated with the intense schedule of debates to date -- a venue in which their candidate has notably underperformed. Aides are fond of noting how much practice other candidates -- including Mitt Romney and, even, Ron Paul -- have had in past presidential debates compared to Perry, who largely avoided debating his opponents in past races.