CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The real headline at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference did not come from anything said there, but rather the event's dismal attendance, which prompted at least one candidate to cancel his appearance.
There were about 25 people in the space set aside for the conference at 9 A.M. when Newt Gingrich was scheduled to speak. But his campaign cancelled his appearance despite the traveling press being brought into the event space, which would have seated about 800 people.
"The campaign came to a mutual agreement with the organizers that based on attendance, we would go ahead and spend more time with the children of Charleston at the children's hospital," said campaign press manager Nathan Naidu, referring to Gingrich's next campaign stop at the Medical University of South Carolina children's hospital.
Erin Callanan, the press liaison for the conference, attributed the cancellation to "conflicting schedules."
"We're disappointed but we wish him well in the rest of his candidacy," she said to reporters after the cancellation was announced. "He's a presidential candidate. It's what comes with the schedule. You've got to be flexible."
The attendance picked up around 10 A.M. when Texas Rep. Ron Paul spoke, his supporters bringing the total attendance up to at least 100 people.
While Paul did not acknowledge the sparse attendance during his speech, he did talk about last night's CNN debate.
"The debates last night were very interesting and sometimes distracting, but overall I thought the debate went quite well," he said.
After Paul, and about 40 supporters, left the arena, Sen. Jim DeMint addressed, via pre-recorded video, the approximately 40 remaining audience members, urging them to rally behind the eventual Republican nominee.
"Vote for whoever you want. You find the best of the best and vote for them. But when we have a nominee as a party let's be united and recognize that we need to win this election," he said.
DeMint also praised the conference's "critical mass of principles and power in Charleston" and urged the attendees to "leave and go work for your candidate" after the event concluded.
The low attendance rate suggested, however, that Republican activists had already heeded DeMint's message, given that the critical masses were certainly not at the Southern Republican Leadership conference.