By Mark Z. Barabak and Maeve Reston
3:24 PM PST, February 25, 2012
Reporting from Tempe, Ariz., and Troy, Mich.
A hue and cry is growing across the land ... for an end to the Republican presidential debates.
The field of GOP hopefuls, in its various permutations, has participated in 20 candidate forums, starting in May 2011 and continuing, for a time, at a pace of two a week. The most recent was Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz.
From the Romney perspective that's more than plenty.
Introducing her husband Saturday at a campaign stop in Troy, Mich., Ann Romney joked that she "should do all the talking and let him just stand here and watch me."
"I've also decided, no more debates," she continued. "If we're going to do another debate, he's going to sit in the audience and watch me - and that will be it."
"Exactly," her husband said, laughing beside her.
Across the country, Romney surrogate John McCain said he too is through with the whole business.
"There have been enough debates," the senator from Arizona told volunteers during a Saturday afternoon drop-by at a Romney phone bank in Tempe. "Everybody knows where they stand. I'm tired of watching these people destroy each other, attack each other's character.
"They're all all good and decent people, and all it does is drive their unfavorables up and give President Obama a free ride. So I'm glad we're not going to have those anymore."
Of course, that's not up to McCain, or Romney, to decide -- though a scheduled March 1 forum in Georgia was canceled after Romney, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas pulled out. That left the hometown candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all by his lonesome.
Romney often professes in his stump speech that he has loved the debates. "Wasn't that fun?” the former Massachusetts governor asks audiences.
But Romney's campaign advisors often waited weeks or even months before agreeing to specific forums and have yet to commit to a debate scheduled in Oregon next month.
The fact is, the sessions have had an enormous effect on the Republican presidential race -- think of Rick Perry's "oops" moment and Gingrich's verbal smackdown of moderator John King of CNN -- and are among the few variables a campaign cannot control.
Candidates who are struggling tend to want more debates, in hopes of shaking up a race and achieving a breakthrough. Candidates who are cruising prefer to avoid them and the inherent danger faced any time they take the stage with an opponent on live TV.
But it's not up to the candidates or their surrogates to decide. The voters of Arizona and Michigan, who cast ballots in a pair of crucial primaries on Tuesday, will likely have a much greater say on whether the debate regimen continues, or whether the political reality show aired its last episode in the Arizona desert.
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