Is GOP Missing an Opportunity by Skipping Debate?

This Thursday, PBS is hosting a Republican presidential debate with liberal commentator Tavis Smiley. For various reasons, the top four GOP candidates have all decided to skip it. In doing so, they are making a big mistake, my friend Bob Cox argues in today's DC Examiner. Here's an excerpt. My comments are below the fold:

One by one, the four leading candidates for the Republican nomination for president have announced they will not participate. This is not only a strategic mistake for these campaigns but also a major embarrassment for the Republican Party.

How can voters take seriously a candidate asking for their support to be leader of the free world when that same candidate is unwilling to take questions from black journalists, in front of a predominantly black audience? [...]

Knowing that about nine out of 10 black voters have cast their ballots for the Democratic presidential candidate over the past two decades, the candidates can have little doubt that the audience at the All-American Forum is not likely to be receptive to Republican candidates or Republican policies.

But how can Republican supporters, many of whom labeled Democrats “cowards” for refusing to debate on the Fox News Channel, remain silent while their candidates run and hide from Tavis Smiley, one of the most congenial black talk show hosts on TV today?

It’s not too late. There are still two more days until the debate.

Let’s hope that the front-running GOP candidates have a change of heart. If the Republican Party wants to be taken seriously on issues of race, especially in the black community, then the time has come for its presidential candidates to show up — or shut up.

Naturally when I read this I was reminded of Joy Behar's bigoted remark that Republicans were too busy attending KKK meetings to go to a black debate. The GOP has had enough problems in recent years with minority voters it sometimes seems it's stopped even trying. And that is a mistake.

Granted, going into a forum where the audience will be stacked in the Democrats' favor and where the moderator has a bizarre belief that being black is being liberal. No doubt he'll also stack the panel with left-wing journalists.

That still doesn't mean the GOP presidential candidates shouldn't show. If you can't get a fair debate, show up for the debate and make that part of your talking points. And surely, going to one of these debates really can't be that much more irritating than going toe-to-toe with the overwhelmingly liberal White House press corps. It's time the GOP stopped giving up on the black vote and stopped giving haters like Joy Behar an excuse.

Full disclosure: I and NB managing editor Ken Shepherd will be blogging this debate live, on-location. We'll keep you posted on the fairness of the questioning. I will personally ask Smiley if it's unfair.

Update 11:56. It would be more understandable for the candidates to take a pass on a left-skewed forum if they helped to organize a more balanced debate that reached out to the black community. Or at least say that you aren't participating because of the unfairness of the forum. Democrats did that with Fox. Here, the GOP leading candidates have just pled "scheduling conflict." That's a cop-out.

Race Issues 2008 Presidential PBSGOP Tavis Smiley

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