The African-American audience watching tonight's GOP presidential debate will see four empty lecterns representing the front-runners who declined to participate. Since the top three also declined a Spanish-language forum, the Los Angeles Times wonders why they're snubbing minority voters. Scheduling-conflict excuses don't cut it; more plausible is fear of alienating their conservative white base.
Already under scrutiny over their conservative credentials, the candidates may feel that they can't risk answering questions on issues important to minorities. It's a dramatic shift from 2004, when Bush’s wooing of African Americans helped cement his re-election. “When you consistently regret invitations to appear in front of black audiences," notes debate moderator Tavis Smiley, "I think that's a pattern and not a scheduling problem.”