ALEX COHEN, host:

And now more on the political front here at home. Last night in Baltimore, GOP candidates appeared at Morgan State University for a debate. They tackled issues of concern to African-American voters.

One of the panelists in the debate was NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams and he joins us now.

Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good to be with you, Alex.

COHEN: So what was your favorite moment of last night's debate?

WILLIAMS: You know, it came toward the end and it was a surprising topic, which was the crisis in Darfur. It's not normally brought up in debates. And what a surprising split.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, said that he's aware of the genocide taking place, but he's also aware of the loss of life here at home in terms of abortion and the number of children, infanticide is the characterized it, losing the lives here in the United States.

Ron Paul, the congressman, said the U.S. has no constitutional authority to go into what he described as a civil war and it would replicate what's going on in Iraq.

And then you have Senator Brownback from Kansas saying that he was disappointed with that response because the United States has to show world leadership. Tom Tancredo, the congressman, said that, you know, there's a moral responsibility for the U.S. to get involved, but not to send troops.

And then you had Duncan Hunter saying on a humanitarian basis we have to do something. But - and Alan Keyes, the only African-American on the stage, saying America can't retreat and create a fortress America, that we should be a nation of nations.

So I thought, given what we've been through in Iraq, it was interesting to see this kind of ideological divide about reaching out to do what everyone agrees is a - would be a good thing, which is to help save lives in Darfur.

COHEN: Last night several of the prominent GOP candidates weren't there - Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain - all absent. How do you think that went over with voters watching?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it probably didn't go over too well. It depends on who's watching though, because I think if you're watching in terms of the Republican base audience, people might not have necessarily said it's terrible they didn't show up but maybe wished that they had made the effort to grow the party because it's necessary for the party's future.

I think it was a wonderful comment made by Duncan Hunter. He said, you know, whenever there's a family reunion, we're going to talk about the members, family members who aren't here and I think that was telling about the whole night. There was a sense of some missing elements of the party.

COHEN: Juan, I'd like to ask you about this phrase that we keep hearing - first black president. And of course when we hear that, everyone kind of assumes that you're talking about Barack Obama. But of course, there is another black presidential candidate, Alan Keyes. He was there last night. How do you think he's been feeling about all this buzz around Barack Obama?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think he feels left out of the party. Because you know, Keyes just keeps getting in, but polls indicate the Republicans really don't have a conservative candidate. Keyes wants the position himself as a real conservative, strong on opposing abortion, strong on conservative evangelical values, and I think that Keyes is hoping that he can somehow make the case that he is the true conservative in the race. And you're right. He sometimes feels as if he's overlooked because he too would be - if he were to be the nominee and elected, the first African-American president.

COHEN: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Alex.

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