Minority Forum: Where Did All the Republicans Go?

Top Republican contenders are criticized for skipping a minority issues forum.

ByABC News via logo
September 29, 2007, 11:43 AM

Sept. 29, 2007 — -- The four leading Republican presidential campaigns are scrambling to explain why they missed the debate in Baltimore.

"The reality is we turned down numerous debates, and there are debates that we just can't do," frontrunner Rudolph Giulani said Friday.

John McCain used his track record as his defense.

"I would hope that most Americans would judge me on my long record," he said.

Giuliani, McCain and Mitt Romney all cited prior commitments for declining the invitation to the PBS-sponsored debate.

Fred Thompson agreed to attend at first, then backed out because the other three weren't coming.

That opened them up to harsh criticism from some of the six contenders who did show up.

"I think it's a disgrace that they aren't here," Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback said.

"You can't make 90 minutes in the entire primary campaign to talk to voters of color?" asked Tavis Smiley, the debate's moderator and PBS commentator. "I mean, I don't think that we're being unreasonable here."

Top GOP strategists like Karl Rove have looked at the country's demographic trends -- less white, more Latino -- and said the Republican Party has to try to lure some of those voters away from the Democrats.

"If you're really looking long-term, you have to talk to Latino voters," PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Ray Suarez said.

Some Republicans admit the appearance of snubbing minority voters also risks offending some key white voters.

"These national elections are really about getting independents to swing your way," Republican strategist Scott Reed said. "I think the fact is some independents will be turned off temporarily by this."

In the end, the decision not to take part in the Baltimore debate largely came down to money. The four leading Republican contenders spent the day of the debate not on this stage in Baltimore, but on the campaign trail fundraising.