Rick Perry opts out of Donald Trump debate

Rick Perry became the latest Republican presidential candidate to bow out of a debate moderated by real estate mogul and reality TV producer Donald Trump.

The Texas governor’s campaign said in a statement that Perry has talked to Trump and respects him. But there are two debates scheduled in the next seven days. “We have respectfully declined the invitation for the Dec. 27 debate,’’ campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan wrote.

Perry instead plans to focus on retail campaigning in Iowa. “Traditional retail campaigning in the days and weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus is the Perry campaign’s top priority,’’ Sullivan wrote. “In the coming weeks, Governor Perry will be in Iowa almost continually, meeting with real voters, doing town hall meetings and events, and talking American jobs, faith, and overhauling Washington, D.C., to Iowa voters.’’

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So far, Republicans Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Ron Paul have said they will not participate. Paul’s campaign said Trump’s participation will contribute to a “circus-like atmosphere,’’ while a Huntsman spokesman emailed Business Insider that “We look forward to watching Mitt and Newt suck-up to The Donald with a big bowl of popcorn.’’ Romney, like Perry, said he will focus on hitting the campaign trail. Perry has had weak performances in several past debates.

Only Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have said they will participate in Trump’s debate. Michele Bachmann has not made a commitment either way.

The debate will be co-hosted by Newsmax, a conservative magazine and news website.

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