But the forum was most notable at its start for its empty lecterns.
The biggest GOP names, Rudy Giuliani, who was speaking in Broward County earlier in the day, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson all sat out the Values Voter Presidential Debate, citing scheduling conflicts.
The 2,688-seat Broward Center for Performing Arts was predicted by organizers would be so full they started a waiting list instead had several hundred empty seats.
Still, the debate went on with seven second-tier Republican candidates participating and hoping to secure the support of a largely evangelical Christian audience.
Organizers say the front-runners' absence will doom their support among social conservatives. But with the debate only broadcast on a satellite TV station, radio and the Internet, it's unclear how great its reach will be.