Bush Changes Mind, Agrees to NH Debate

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

Manchester, NH (CNSNews.com) - Republican presidential front runner George W. Bush has had a change of heart: Less than a week after insisting he would not participate in any debates this year, the Bush campaign has announced the Texas governor will join his rivals in a televised debate set for December 2nd.

The turn around will likely result in other Republican hopefuls deciding to take part in the event.

The governor's earlier decision drew sharp criticisms from other Republican candidates, as well as the party's rank and file.

Some ranking Republicans wondered aloud yesterday whether the message had gotten to Bush. While hesitant to speak for the record, two party loyalists who spoke with CNSNews.com on condition of anonymity said the initial decision was a mistake.

"It seems he finally got the message. New Hampshire voters don't take their politics lightly and to avoid a debate would be a mistake," said one. "He needs to be more careful up here."

"It could be he looked at the latest poll numbers and saw McCain gaining on him," said another.

A poll released last week showed Bush loosing four points from a month ago, while Arizona Sen. John McCain gaining 15 points in the last 30 days.

McCain has made nearly 20 visits to this first-in-the-nation primary state, while Bush has been here a half dozen times. While McCain's appearances involve an active give and take with voters and the press, Bush events tend to be carefully orchestrated, with reporters kept at a distance and given access to the governor shortly before he and his entourage depart.

Bush and Elizabeth Dole have rejected invitations to an October 22nd debate, citing scheduling conflicts. Bush organizers said the governor would be in Vermont, while the Dole campaign said the former Red Cross president plans to spend the day campaigning in Iowa.

Aides to Patrick J. Buchanan, who is in the process of deciding whether to leave his long time Republican home, in favor of the Reform Party, did not formally respond to the October 22nd invitation, according to press reports.

Buchanan's actions have surprised some, since the October 22nd forum is co-sponsored by the Manchester Union Leader. The newspaper's editorial support was instrumental in helping Buchanan defeat Bob Dole in 1996, and come within one point of then-President George Bush four years earlier.