The top four U.S. Republican Party presidential candidates have skipped a debate on minority concerns, raising questions of racial division within the party.

Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Senator John McCain all said scheduling conflicts prevented them from attending Thursday's debate at a historically African-American university, Morgan State in the mid-Atlantic state of Maryland.

Some of the six Republican presidential hopefuls who attended the debate Thursday criticized the 2008 front-runners for skipping the event, saying their absence amplified racial divisions and hurt the party's overall image.

The candidates discussed their views on issues of interest to African-Americans, who usually vote in large numbers for Democratic Party candidates.

Earlier this month, a scheduled Spanish-language Republican debate aimed at Hispanic voters was canceled after only Senator McCain agreed to participate.

Candidates at the debate Thursday answered questions from African-American and Hispanic journalists on illegal immigration, Iraq, capital punishment and minority unemployment.

Senator Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Congressmen Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo and African-American conservative commentator Alan Keyes attended the event.


Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.