GOP candidates pass over Georgia for Super Tuesday debate

Photo by Karie Bradley

Photo by Karie Bradley

Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue P. Everhart released a statement Thursday concerning the presidential candidates' decision to pull out of a planned debate in Atlanta ahead of Super Tuesday.

"On behalf of Republicans across Georgia and our friends in the Ohio Republican Party, I am deeply disappointed in today’s developments regarding the 2012 Super Tuesday Republican Presidential Debate" Everhart said in the prepared statement. "The decision of Governor Romney, Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul to forego an opportunity to address our state's Republican primary voters, as well as voters across the nation, in a debate just days before Super Tuesday is truly disheartening."

Everhart continued by urging the candidates to reconsider their decision not to debate in Georgia and noted grassroots efforts to move the state's presidential preference primary from February to March 6.

Georgia has been overlooked by presidential campaign by both parties over the years. In 2012, Georgia has the largest number of Republican delegates at stake among the 10 states holding primary elections Tuesday. State election officials believed candidates would give Georgia more attention when the presidential primary was moved to Super Tuesday.

"I wish each of the candidates the best of luck moving forward, and trust that our Party's eventual nominee will not overlook Georgia's two-million plus Republican voters before the general election," Everhart said in the statement.

In a statement, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the former Massachusetts governor “will be spending a lot of time campaigning in Georgia and Ohio” ahead of the March 6 presidential primary, when voters in nine states will cast ballots.

“With eight other states voting on March 6, we will be campaigning in other parts of the country and unable to schedule the CNN Georgia debate,” Saul said, noting that Romney has participated in 20 debates already.

Santorum also signaled that he would not likely participate without all four candidates on the stage. Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker who hails from Georgia, was committed to participating.

“It’s an insult to the people of Georgia,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said. “They’re saying `I’m good enough to vote for, but too good to come to your debate.”’

Meanwhile, the turn of events seemed a setback for Georgia’s GOP. Everhart said she had been working on the debate for six months and was also coordinating other events to raise money for the state party.

Both Santorum and Gingrich will be campaigning in Georgia this weekend, and Romney headlined a rally in the state last week. Paul won a state Republican Party straw poll last summer, but has not campaigned in Georgia.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.