Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson has become the fourth leading GOP presidential candidate to shun the PBS debate this month at a historically black college in Baltimore, the Huffington Post has learned.
The debates, moderated by Tavis Smiley, will go on as planned, despite the absence of Thompson, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, former governor Mitt Romney, and Sen. John McCain. Each campaign cited scheduling issues as the reason for their absence. Nevertheless, the rejections underscore the consistent absence of GOP candidates at minority voter forums.
"There is a pattern here," Smiley told the Huffington Post. "When you tell every black and brown request that you get throughout the primary process that 'no, there's a scheduling problem.' That's a pattern... Are we really supposed to believe that all four of these guys couldn't make it because of scheduling?"
The Republican frontrunners' snubbing of Smiley and PBS comes on the heels of their rejection of a debate sponsored by the Spanish-language network Univision (McCain was the only GOP candidate to accept that invitation). This past June, only one Republican presidential candidate, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, showed up at the convention of the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials.
"It's not just that they are not coming. It's that some of them are visibly insulting us," Cecilia Munoz, vice president of NCLR, told the Politico.
According to Smiley, the Thompson campaign knew about the debate - taking place at 9 pm on September 27 at Morgan State University- well before he declared his candidacy. Former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman chose the date because it worked best for all the potential candidates, Smiley said.
An official on Thompson's staff called up the PBS host on Monday to deliver the message.
"I told them I thought they were making a grave mistake and I thought they should reconsider," said Smiley. The Thompson campaign did not respond for a request for comment by the time of print.
The five other Republican candidates for president have all committed to the PBS debate and Smiley plans to proceed with the plans - albeit with four empty lecterns on stage.
"Unlike Univision which cancelled their debate, unlike CNN, which changed their date [of the YouTube debate] we are going live," said Smiley. "We are delighted the other five are coming and appreciate their courage for showing up. The beat goes on."