WASHINGTON -- Next week's Republican presidential debate in Baltimore, which has been shunned by the party's leading contenders, is getting an added starter: Alan L. Keyes.
The conservative activist, a former U.S. Senate candidate in Maryland and Illinois who said last week that he is running for president again, is "definitely participating," said a campaign spokeswoman, Carla Michele.
Keyes, 56, would be the lone African-American candidate at the Morgan State University forum, which will focus on issues of importance to minority voters.
The decision by four top Republicans to skip the nationally televised event has drawn harsh criticism from its main organizer, talk-show host Tavis Smiley.
A spokesman for Smiley said last night that debate organizers "don't have an announcement at this time" regarding Keyes' participation but indicated he would be welcome at the Sept. 27 forum.
Smiley has said that the stage at Morgan's Murphy Fine Arts Center would have four empty lecterns, representing Rudolph W. Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, who have declined to appear, citing scheduling conflicts and fund-raising obligations.
On the Tom Joyner radio show this week, Smiley asked listeners to raise the issue about "these Republicans dissing black and brown folk" and called the failure of the leading candidates to debate "a lost opportunity" for the Republican Party.
Keyes lost Senate races in Maryland in 1988 and 1992 and in Illinois in 2004. He ran for president in 1996 and 2000.