WASHINGTON -- Likely presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not participating this week in the first GOP presidential debate, saying it was too early to begin facing off against opponents.
The debate, being held Thursday in South Carolina and sponsored by Fox News, will feature only a handful of candidates, including former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Senator Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania.
Romney, who is planning to be in South Carolina for a visit later this month, did participate in a forum on Friday in New Hampshire. The candidates were each given eight minutes for prepared remarks, but never appeared on stage with one another.
But he has been coy about whether he would participate in the first debate. On Friday, he told reporters, "Stay tuned," when asked whether he would be there. Today, he definitively said no.
"Gov. Romney will not be participating in this week's South Carolina debate because it's still early, the field is too unsettled and he's not yet an announced candidate," Matt Rhoades, one of his top advisers, said in a statement. "Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party have both been notified of this decision. Gov. Romney is planning to visit South Carolina on May 21st and he looks forward to debating there closer to their primary."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.