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December 22. 2011 11:21PM

Earning it? Debate Gingrich, Mitt

Mitt Romney's campaign released an online ad this week called “Earning it: Bedford, NH,” in which were featured segments from Romney's Tuesday night speech in Bedford. That would be the meeting at the Bedford Town Hall in which Romney took zero questions. Since when is that “earning it” in New Hampshire?

Romney is playing it safe, trying to avoid being asked questions to which he does not have scripted, well-rehearsed answers. He wants to avoid a moment like he had last week in Chez Vachon when a gay veteran confronted him. The lack of a robust retail primary this time has aided Romney's effort immensely.

With the exception of the rare media interview, the televised debates have been the venues most conducive to putting Romney on the spot. That's to his liking because he has an array of well-prepared, brief answers. Answering any question in 30 or 60 seconds is easy if you've got a rehearsed answer at the ready. But how would he do in a format with, say, one other opponent, a format in which longer, less scripted responses must be given?

This year's debate-driven primary has not provided enough of those opportunities. But there is one available. Newt Gingrich has challenged Romney to a debate, just the two of them.

We know. Romney, being the front-runner, and a careful one at that, has nothing to gain from accepting that challenge — which is why he's already declined it. Why would he take that kind of risk? There is only one reason: if the voters of either Iowa or New Hampshire demand it.

Romney claims he's “earning it” in New Hampshire. To his credit, he is actually campaigning here. But it's often a careful, arms-length kind of campaigning. New Hampshire voters should tell Romney that if he really wants to earn it, he can join Gingrich for a real New Hampshire town hall meeting — one in which voters get to ask questions and hear the candidates answer in more than 30-second soundbites. Let Romney show that he's really earning it.


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