WASHINGTON - Likely Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney is skipping the first debate with his rivals in South Carolina this week, an aide said Monday.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, had been coy about whether he would attend Thursday's debate in Greenville, South Carolina, which is being sponsored jointly by the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News.
An aide said the Republican race was still getting started and that Romney is still not an announced candidate. The Republican race has been slow to start in the battle to pick a nominee to face President Barack Obama in 2012.
So far, a small field is expected to show up at the debate, including former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer and Texas Representative Ron Paul.
Romney, arguably the front-runner in the Republican field, attended an event in New Hampshire last Friday with four other potential candidates.
At that event, Romney defended a healthcare policy he helped develop for Massachusetts that conservatives oppose and Democrats like to say Obama used as a model for his overhaul.
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