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The crowd stays home from the GOP debate

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- I came here Wednesday not just to cover a debate between the  Republican presidential candidates, but also to talk to the GOP voters whom I expected to swarm outside the waterfront concert hall where the eight contenders were set to spar.

   After all, that's what you will usually find outside a debate site: partisans who love politics and love their candidates. Before a Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas two weeks ago, for example, the Barack Obama crowd was so big and unruly that it made me miss the turn into the media parking lot.

   That being the case, I couldn't be more surprised to see the number of people gathered outside the GOP debate site.

   Several dozen, many of them homeless, protested the Iraq War.

   A smaller crowd rallied for Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian icon who's in the single digits in the polls.

   Two lonely people marched by carrying a sign backing the candidacy of Rep. Duncan Hunter --  who, frankly, many Americans might confuse with a cake mix.

   And that was it. I didn't find any massive crowd filling the streets to root for front-runner Rudy Giuliani or any of the major candidates who are nipping at his heels.

   Maybe, somehow, I missed them during my two separate 20-minute treks through the heat and humidity of a Gulf Coast evening, but I can't imagine how.

   More likely, the Republican candidates came to town -- and the Republicans stayed home.

   If the same thing happens a year from now, the GOP would be in trouble.

   But is it in trouble now? What do you think?

-- Jerry Zremski

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