Tavis Smiley had the Republican Party in his sights and he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to take aim and fire.
The first of two live presidential forums sponsored by the Public Broadcasting Service and moderated by Mr. Smiley, a noted black author, journalist and commentator, took place on June 28th on the campus of historically black Howard University in Washington, DC. All eight of the Democratic candidates were there, elbowing each other to see who could curry more favor with voters of color. Behind the scenes, Mr. Smiley and PBS had also spent months in preparation for a similar forum for the Republican candidates, and Maryland’s former lieutenant governor, black Republican Michael Steele, and former national GOP chairman Ken Mehlman encouraged them to host the event at another historically black university, Morgan State University in Mr. Mehlman’s hometown of Baltimore.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, however, and Mr. Smiley wasn’t laughing. In fact, he was fuming – in print, on TV, and on the radio. The men considered the four major Republican contenders at the time – former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain and former Senator Fred Thompson – had all declined to participate, citing scheduling conflicts. Some indicated that scheduling a forum in the last week of the fundraising cycle left them with a difficult choice between participation in the debate or raising desperately needed funds for their campaigns.