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Presidential debate delayed as would-be candidates hesitate

The first debate of the campaign will be pushed from May to Sept. 14. Too few Republicans 'have made the commitment thus far for a debate to be worthwhile,' says an official with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, host of the debate.

March 30, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and Matea Gold, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — White House hopefuls hesitant to dive into the race as early as in previous cycles have spurred organizers of what was to be the first debate of the campaign to push the California event from May to September.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, which was hosting the debate on May 2 with media partners NBC and Politico, will announce Wednesday that it is shifting the debate in Simi Valley to Sept. 14.

"Although there will be a long and impressive list of Republican candidates who eventually take the field, too few have made the commitment thus far for a debate to be worthwhile in early May," Reagan Foundation executive director John Heubusch said in a statement, NBC reported.

Local Republican parties, interest groups and media organizations have been far more eager than would-be candidates to get the process of choosing a nominee started. Also on the calendar already are debates on June 7 in New Hampshire, Aug. 11 in Iowa and Sept. 5 in Florida. Another round of debates in the first nominating states is planned closer to the still-uncertain dates of those contests.

Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party intend to go forward with their plans for a May 5 debate in that state, according to a spokeswoman for the cable television network.

Participation in a debate like the one planned at the Reagan Library could be considered by the Federal Election Commission as tantamount to declaring one's candidacy, meaning the White House hopefuls would have to register campaign committees.

Thus far, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is alone among the first tier of GOP hopefuls to have filed paperwork creating a so-called exploratory committee. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is raising money under federal limits as he ramps up campaign activities as part of a "testing-the-waters" phase.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour have said they won't make a final decision on running until April at the earliest. The plans of two more former governors, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, remain unclear.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) indicated last week she could enter the race in June.

Lesser-known figures like former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, pizza mogul Herman Cain and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, all Republicans, have been more overt in their candidacies.

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