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Republican candidates, left to right, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul say the Pledge of Allegiance at the CNN Charleston debates on January 19. TRIBUNE PHOTO by BOB DAEMMRICH

by JAY ROOT

The Republican Party of Texas is making plans to host a presidential debate in Texas before the May 29 primaries.

Party chairman Steve Munisteri announced Friday that all the major candidates except Mitt Romney have accepted the invitation. Munisteri said Romney, the front-runner, has not yet ruled out an appearance.

But Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told The Texas Tribune late Friday that the former Massachusetts governor is looking ahead toward the general election.

“The only debates our campaign is focused on are with President Obama in the fall,” Williams said.

There is no date or location yet, but Munisteri said a major TV outlet has agreed to sponsor a debate with all the candidates.

“There is a significant chance that they will televise the debate even if we are lacking only one candidate. We already have commitments from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Senator Rick Santorum to participate in such a debate,” Munisteri said. “Both my staff and myself have reached out to the campaign of Gov. Mitt Romney and have been told that they are considering attending the debate.”

If the party pulls off the event, it would be the first nationally televised debate since the one in Arizona in Feburary. Other scheduled debates, including one set for mid-March in Oregon, were canceled after candidates pulled out.

There have been 20 nationally televised debates among the GOP candidates, and the joint appearances drove much of the media coverage and had a huge impact on the race. Gingrich’s solid debate performances were seen as a major factor in the rebirth of his candidacy late last year.

The debates had the opposite effect on Gov. Rick Perry, who committed a string of gaffes on live television, including his famous “oops” moment on Nov. 9 in Michigan.

Editor’s note: The Tribune has been approached about participating in this debate, but no media partners have been finalized.

JAY ROOT reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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