Sneak Peek: GOP forum missing top candidates


There will be five empty podiums on stage at the All-American Presidential Forum on PBS Thursday night at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD.

The top Republican candidates (Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain) all will be absent from the minority-issue-centered forum at the historically black college, citing scheduling conflicts. Tom Tancredo backed out after forum organizers included Alan Keyes.

That leaves Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback and Keyes to debate each other and take questions from moderator Tavis Smiley at 9:00 pm ET.

The decision to skip the forum has opened the leading Republican candidates to criticism that they are turning their backs on minority voters and ignoring their concerns.

"What does it say when you don't think that black issues and brown issues and issues for red and yellow – what does it say when you don't think that all of us are valuable in this process?" Smiley asked recently on "The Tonight Show."

Potential candidate Newt Gingrich told Good Morning America's Robin Roberts that he thinks skipping the debate is a mistake by the frontrunners.

"I think it's a mistake. I wish they would change their mind," Gingrich said Tuesday. "They still have a few days. And I wish that they would, in fact, go to the debate on Thursday night."

Can't wait to watch a debate until tomorrow night? The eight Democratic presidential candidates take part in a debate tonight at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. on MSNBC. Log on to and follow the debate with ABC News' Senior Political Reporter Rick Klein who will be live blogging the two-hour event.

So if not Baltimore, where are those GOP front-runners? Mitt Romney starts his day with breakfast in Sacramento at 11:00 am ET to raise campaign coin. Next up is a second opportunity for breakfast when he talks to area voters at 12:45 pm ET at a Sacramento International House of Pancakes. Romney finishes the day with an 8:30 pm ET dinner fundraiser in San Diego.

Ann Romney hosts a 9:00 pm ET "Rally for Romney" in Orange County, CA.

Like Romney, Rudy Giuliani hits the West Coast for a slew of appears in Southern California. First, he accepts an endorsement in Santa Monica at 1:00 pm ET (former Gov. Pete Wilson, says the AP: ). Giuliani later heads to Lancaster and Santa Barbara for public appearances.

John McCain delivers what his campaign is billing as a "major" address about the war in Iraq to the Hudson Institute in New York City at 8:45 am ET.

ABC News' Bret Hovell reports that McCain will call for an increase in the size of the army and Marine Corps to up to 900,000 troops and says he will get there without a draft.  

"As president, I would bring the army and Marines from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 to 900,000. This will cost real money, some additional billions annually, but it will not require a draft any more than similar levels did in the 1980s."

Fred Thompson is in the center part of his home state of Tennessee for breakfast fundraising in Clarksville, lunch in Murfreesboro and then heads for Franklin in the evening.

Thirteen years after House Republicans signed the Contract with America, Newt Gingrich hosts "Solutions Day" at the Cobb Galleria Center in Atlanta, GA. Gingrich outlines the challenges facing the country in remarks at 7:00 pm ET but is around early in the day to do a book signing at 12:00 pm ET.

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