Gov. Rick Perry holds a news conference to discuss wildfires in Texas on… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )
Citing the press of business from wildfires ranging across Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, the front-runner in most polls for the GOP presidential nomination, on Tuesday left it up in the air as to whether he will attend Wednesday’s Republican candidates debate.
Perry is the star attraction in the debate, the first since he jumped into the presidential race and took a commanding lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the candidate Perry unseated from the top of the polls.
Speaking on CBS’s “Early Show,” Perry wouldn’t commit himself to participating in the Wednesday debate, scheduled for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley. The debate is co-hosted by NBC and Politico. (Watch video below.)
Speaking to CBS anchors Erica Hill and Chris Wragge, Perry was evasive about his plans. He canceled several campaign apperances over the weekend in New Hampshire and South Carolina to return to Texas to deal with the fires, which have caused widespread evacuations and have already destroyed about 1,000 homes.
“I don't know,” Perry told Wragge of the debate. “That's a fluid situation at the moment, so again I go back to we're going to be taking care of the folks here. I've got a great team of people to work with. That's one of the things I've been blessed with for 10 years.”
In television appearances on CBS and on Fox News on Tuesday, Perry avoided talking about politics and took the high road, appearing gubernatorial in a crisis. He sidestepped questions about Romney, who has recently escalated his attacks on Perry as the Texas governor has climbed in the polls.
“I'll be real honest with you; this is not the time to be talking about politics,” Perry said. “There's another 14 months ahead to talk politics. Right now I'm substantially more focused on making sure that these people ... folks all across this state are being taken care of.”
The latest poll to show Perry with a commanding lead among GOP stalwarts was an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday. It found that Perry was the first choice of 38% of Republican voters, followed by Romney at 23%, Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 9% and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 8%.
Those figures are similar to other national polls, which, like the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, show Perry capitalizing on “tea party” movement support. In the NBC/WSJ poll Perry leads Romney 45% to 18% among tea party supporters but the pair are statistically even at around 27% among non-tea party Republicans.