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Rick Perry calls debates a 'mistake,' but how can he avoid them?

Former GOP presidential front-runner Rick Perry says his mistake was taking part in the debates. But now that he's fallen back, it could be hard to rebound if he avoids future debates.

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Perhaps even more extraordinary is that his campaign is hinting that he might skip debates in the future. He has only committed to one of the seven debates scheduled before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

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Perry has $17 million in his pocket from fundraising last quarter. Ad money, he has. But it's difficult to imagine how staying away from a debate would be viewed as anything other than an attempt at damage limitation. For a candidate who needs to be on offense, that's a potential problem.

Moreover, how much can targeted ads and hand-shaking do to substantially move his numbers? Debates represent invaluable opportunities to reach broad audiences, with CBS, ABC, and PBS picking up coverage of the next series in addition to the three main cable news networks. Which is he going to skip?

He has already committed to the Nov. 9 debate in Michigan. The Nov. 12 debate, broadcast by CBS, is in South Carolina, a state where the Southern governor will likely have to make a strong showing. The Nov. 15 foreign-policy debate in Washington is hosted by the Hertitage Foundation – a leading conservative think tank.

Perhaps the Dec. 1 CNN debate in Arizona? Because after that, it's three straight debates in Iowa ahead of the caucuses – a vote where Perry must lay down a marker if he's to beat Romney for the nomination.

Perry has been selective before. In the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race, incumbent and front-runner Perry refused to participate in any debates because his Democratic opposition, Bill White, refused to release his taxes.

Is this another example of Perry trying to bring a heaping helping of Texas to the national stage?

If so, he could be asking for the ultimate "Texas miracle."

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