N.H. debates cut; candidate unaware

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CONCORD ABC News on Tuesday reminded Republican presidential hopefuls that its October debate in New Hampshire had been canceled after presidential hopeful Fred Thompson on Monday pledged to participate.

The network told Republicans it had canceled the Oct. 14 debate in Manchester, but would go ahead with plans for a January debate in the key early voting state.

"Although we had believed it was thoroughly communicated to each of your campaigns some time ago, we would like to make sure there is no confusion," ABC wrote to campaigns on Tuesday afternoon.

Thompson campaign manager Bill Lacy sent a memo on Monday that announced the former Tennessee senator would participate in three October debates, including the New Hampshire one. Thompson skipped a debate in Durham this month and instead appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" in Los Angeles to launch his campaign. The move left many in New Hampshire with an uneasiness about the "Law & Order" star's commitment to the early voting states.

Thompson sought to quiet those concerns by joining Manchester's Oct. 14 debate. But the debate had long ago been canceled along with a planned Democrats' debate on Oct. 21 because sponsors ABC News, WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader were reluctant to have a debate for Republicans with no matching one for Democrats.

National Democrats have clamped down on sanctioned events to rein in serial debates and forums. The top-polling candidates have said they will participate only in Democratic National Committee-sanctioned events, giving them a pass to avoid the round-robin events their lesser known rivals use for exposure, including the Oct. 21 event.

Instead, the party has sanctioned a debate on Oct. 30 in Philadelphia, said DNC spokesman Damien LaVera.

"When the DNC didn't sanction our debates ... the debates went away," said WMUR news director Andrew Vrees. "We weren't going to do a Republican debate without a Democratic debate."

Thompson still hopes the Republicans will be on stage in New Hampshire.

"We hope that WMUR and the Union Leader get together for a debate and if they do, we'll be there," said Thompson spokesman Todd Harris.

The crowded schedule has been a source of frustration for many campaigns. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, said earlier that his candidate "simply cannot continue to hopscotch from forum to forum and run a campaign true to the bottom-up movement for change that propelled Barack into this race." It's a sentiment that other campaigns have shared privately.

This isn't the first difficulty New Hampshire has faced when scheduling debates. In April, WMUR-TV, the Union Leader and CNN had to postpone events because better known candidates weren't coming. Instead, they had the debates in June with the full roster of declared candidates.

Thompson's remaining debate schedule included debates on Oct. 9 in Dearborn, Mich., and on Oct. 21 in Orlando, Fla.