AUSTIN (AP) _ Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush on Friday continued to defend his absence from a debate with his rivals a day earlier.

``I will take part in debates,'' the Texas governor said at his residence as he greeted and took pictures with a parade of elementary school students dressed for Halloween. '' I think the people of New Hampshire understand a husband supporting his wife.''

Bush missed Thursday's town hall forum at Dartmouth College to attend a ceremony honoring his wife Laura at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

He plans to participate in a GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., on Dec. 2.

``I think the most important thing is I won my wife's affection,'' Bush said. ``The event in New Hampshire was important. It wasn't nearly as important as for me to be by her side and I'm glad I was there last night.''

Bush said he had not watched the debate.