Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman accepted an invitation from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to participate in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate in New Hampshire this month, but declined to attend two other debates in Iowa, one of which will be moderated by Donald Trump.
“We look forward to discussing the issues that matter to the American people in a serious, substantive debate with Speaker Gingrich later this month,” Republican presidential candidate Huntsman’s campaign spokesman, Tim Miller, said in a statement Friday.
While Huntsman hopes to gain in polls as a result of the N.H. debate with Gingrich, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12, both the presidential candidates appear to be targeting their rival Mitt Romney in his priority state.
Mass. Gov. Romney rejected Gingrich’s invitation. “It is telling that Governor Romney has declined to participate because this substantive format makes it hard for him to hide from his record,” Miller said.
Gingrich recently targeted Romney, saying, “I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney.” “We think there has to be a solid conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” he told WSC Radio in South Carolina.
Gingrich, who recently rose to be a front-runner, previously held a debate with former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, Herman Cain, in a similar event in Texas last month. Cain pulled out of the presidential race on Saturday.
While Huntsman readily agreed to debate with Gingrich, his campaign mocked the upcoming Donald Trump/Newsmax debate in Iowa on Dec. 27, saying the presidential hopeful was interested only in “serious” debates.
The real estate mogul, who at one time seemed interested in running for president, said he was asked to moderate the upcoming debate “by a number of people, including some of my friends that are Republicans, strong Republicans.” “I thought it would certainly be a little change of pace for Donald Trump, so I’ll do something I haven’t done before,” he told MSNBC Friday.
Trump tweeted, saying Huntsman “has zero chance of getting the nomination. Whoever said I wanted to meet him?”
Huntsman, who is not contesting Iowa caucuses, also plans to skip a Dec. 10 debate hosted by ABC News/Des Moines Register/Iowa GOP in that state. Only the candidates who will have at least 5 percent support in national or Iowa state polls by Monday will qualify to participate. It is being speculated that Huntsman declined to attend the event fearing he may not be able to gain the support.