Reaction among black conservatives is divided over news this week that Republican presidential frontrunners had pulled out of a long-scheduled debate at a historically black college.
"Many people think that Republicans don't care about the black community," Don Scoggins, President of Republicans for Black Empowerment, told the Huffington Post. "I know that's not true, but it's hard to dispel when have we major candidates who say they have scheduling conflicts."
Other black conservatives were far more forgiving.
"I truly believe that Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain can't make it because of scheduling conflicts," said black conservative pundit La Shawn Barber on her blog Wednesday. "I'm hopelessly naïve, I guess."
The Huffington Post reported on Monday that former senator Fred Thompson was the last of the Republican frontrunners to decline an invitation to debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. The debate, scheduled for Sept. 27 and sponsored by PBS, will include Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). The campaign of Alan Keyes, who only entered the race last week, did not say whether he would attend, or whether he was invited.
Tavis Smiley, a PBS TV host who is moderating the debate, earlier expressed doubts that Republican front runners had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from attending. His skepticism was shared by Scoggins of Republicans for Black Empowerment.
"This wasn't something that just came up, this has been planned for months," Scoggins said, noting that the Morgan State debate was announced at the same time Democrats debated at Howard University in Washington DC in June.
"For the major candidates, considering how much time they have to spend on fundraising, they probably feel that the black community doesn't offer much of a return, and they spend their time elsewhere," he said.
But the leader of another black Republican organization said Scoggins' disappointment was misplaced.
"The message the Democrats are sending to black children is that they should celebrate their victimhood rather than get a good education, become prosperous, and god forbid vote for a Republican," said Frances Rice, the chairwoman of the National Black Republican Association. "If you do that, they will castigate you as an Uncle Tom, an Aunt Jemima, or as a House N-word, when it's the Democrats who are devastating our communities. That is what we should be talking about."
She argued that the debate has been stacked against Republican candidates.
"I have no idea what Tavis Smiley will do, but I know his behavior and conduct in the past has been highly supportive of Democrats, and highly critical of Republicans," Rice added. "There are people who just want an opportunity to beat up on Republicans."
But Scoggins questioned the notion that the forum would put Republicans in front of a hostile audience. He said that groups like his had been asked to bring in audience members who would be receptive to the Republican message. More importantly, he said that Republican candidates should be ready to brave waters that might at first appear choppy.
"The community has matured and they're ready to hear what people have to say," he argued. "You can't assume a black audience will not be well received, they have to break the ice so we can move on."
Scoggins said he hoped that Republican Party leaders could still prevail upon the top Republican hopefuls to debate at Morgan State. The Republican candidates have also been invited to a November debate hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and Fox News.
Georgella Muirhead, a spokeswoman for the CBC Institute, said she could not say at this time which Republican candidates had accepted or declined the invitation, but said an announcement was forthcoming.