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Big tent collapses

The Baltimore Sun

So much for Republican outreach.

Just two years after then-GOP Chairman and Pikesville native Ken Mehlman directed President Bush through a national charm offensive aimed at breaking the Democrats' hold on black voters, and seven years after Mr. Bush's determined entreaties to the even more vote-rich Hispanic community, both groups are being dissed by the leading GOP contenders to succeed Mr. Bush.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Fred Thompson all decided they have better ways to spend their time than to participate in Thursday night's Republican presidential debate at Morgan State University sponsored by PBS. An earlier debate to be aired by Hispanic network Univision was canceled after only Mr. McCain agreed to come. This is not only shameful, it's foolish, playing into stereotypes of GOP indifference to minority concerns that Mr. Mehlman and other party leaders have tried to erase.

The short-sighted explanation for snubbing historically black Morgan is that fundraising books are about to close for this reporting period, and candidates have more to gain by boosting their standing in the money race than by trying to woo a voting bloc that plays little role in Republican primaries. But the eventual Republican nominee - and anyone qualified to be president - must have a broader view.

There have been many debates, and there will be many more. The Morgan event, though, offers a rare showcase for an aspiring leader to field tough questions from an audience not already in his pocket. All 2,000 seats in the audience have been snapped up, and the university is making the most of its moment in the national spotlight. A stand-out performance there could do far more to inspire confidence in a candidate's ability to handle one of the world's toughest jobs than simply raising a few more bucks.

Now, one of the so-called second-tier candidates on Morgan's stage has the chance to shine, and it will be well-deserved.

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