Time Magazine is reporting that key G.O.P. presidential candidates are suddenly finding scheduling conflicts and other excuses to back out of the September 17 YouTube debate on CNN.  From Friday’s story in Time:

The Rudy Giuliani campaign has cited scheduling conflicts in saying it will skip the Republican version of this week’s Democratic debate, while Mitt Romney has mocked the seriousness of the questions and also seems likely to withdraw. John McCain, one of two candidates who had agreed to participate (Ron Paul is the other), has also expressed doubts about the Democratic debate’s level of decorum and aides say he may reconsider his commitment. Undeclared candidate Fred Thompson may still not officially be in the race by the event’s Sept. 17 airdate.

The Republicans’ sudden aversion has political observers wondering whether abandoning an opportunity to participate in the fledging format shows a potentially costly reluctance to engage with voters or is simply an exercise in prudent message management.

Are the Republicans afraid of facing real voters?  Skating through the presidential campaign while only answering carefully scripted, carefully crafted and negotiated questions in debates with  pre-screened audiences?

That seems likely, although the Republicans will try to spin this differently.