Key Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday he will not take part in a debate moderated by real estate mogul Donald Trump later this month.
Romney, who is battling a late surge by former House speaker Newt Gingrich,said Trump had wished him well after the former Massachusetts governor became the third candidate to announce they will skip the debate.
“I’m not participating,” he told Fox television, saying he already has two debates scheduled this month, and was campaigning hard to secure support in Iowa,New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
“I spoke with Donald Trump earlier today and indicated that we just can’t make this debate and we focus on the other two. And, I will be campaigning,” he added.
Romney said Trump — who has indicated he could soon announce whom he endorses for the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in the November 2012 presidential election — respected his decision.
“He understood my perspective and wished me well,” he said.
He added: “I told him at this late date and with the other debates we have scheduled, and .. by the way, there are several other, five or ten other debate requests we have had for December and January — and we cannot do them all.
“We try to do a couple a month,” he said.
Trump, who briefly flirted with his own Republican presidential run earlier this year, will be moderating the December 27 debate just a week before the January 3 Iowa caucuses that officially kick off the 2012 voting season.
Two other minor candidates, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, have already said they do not plan to attend the debate in Des Moines, Iowa.