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THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Third-Party Candidates Are Left Out in the Cold

Buchanan watches the debate from his hotel room, Nader is barred from the proceedings and Browne loses a court decision.

October 04, 2000|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — He wanted to be up there on the debate stage. Boy, did he.

Instead, Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan revealed Tuesday he'd be watching what he called "The Great Republican Gamble" with his wife in their hotel room.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader thought he had a seat inside the debate hall, thanks to a generous college student with a ticket, but the debate's organizers and three police officers still wouldn't let him in.

Supporters of Libertarian Harry Browne, meanwhile, made a last-ditch legal attempt to get their candidate onto the Boston debate stage. A Massachusetts judge said no dice.

As George W. Bush and Al Gore faced off for the first time Tuesday, the top third-party candidates were left to stew.

"I feel like we're Slippery Rock State Teachers College," Buchanan said of his missed chance to joust with Democrat Gore and Republican Bush in the season's opening presidential debate. "We made the Final Four in the NCAA and they won't let us into the arena."

Lacking a national pulpit, Buchanan arranged a small lunch here Tuesday to lay out his plans to lead his Reform Party into what he sees as a vast Republican void. Over mineral water and Caesar salad, he predicted "a civil war inside the Republican Party" if Bush stumbles in November.

Charging "a certain arrogance on the part of the Austin boys," Buchanan declared that if the Republican presidential candidate loses, "George W. Bush will be the biological father of a new Reform Party."

Buchanan accused the GOP of abandoning its political and philosophical foundations, and said the Republicans have "written off" a huge geographical area. With $12 million in federal election money in his party's pocket, Buchanan said the Reform Party would move into that territory by launching a series of radio ads throughout the Northeast, as well as New Jersey, Minnesota and other states yet to be determined. The ads are already playing in California.

By telling listeners that "the race in your state is over; you know it and I know it," Buchanan hopes enough voters will defect to his party in at least one state to guarantee a 5% vote for the Reform Party. With 5% of voters in just one state, Buchanan said, the Reform Party is guaranteed a permanent share of federal election funds.

Meanwhile, hours before the debate, a judge threw out a court challenge filed Tuesday by Massachusetts Libertarians in a last-ditch attempt to force organizers to include their candidate, Browne.

"The plaintiffs have slept on their rights by waiting until the last minute to seek relief," Suffolk Superior Court Judge Gordon Doerfer ruled. He said intervening in the debates would deprive the public of information it needs about the two major candidates.

The lawsuit claimed Browne should be included because Massachusetts, which officially recognizes the party, spent $900,000 to help pay for the debate.

Nader also criticized the decision by the Commission on Presidential Debates to limit Tuesday's showdown to candidates with at least 15% support in national polls. Only Gore and Bush met that threshold.

The Green Party candidate, who will head to Chicago for a rally expected to draw 10,000 supporters, believes that the polls are slanted. Much of his backing--he has drawn big crowds in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis--comes from young voters not typically tapped by presidential polls.

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Times staff writer Eric Bailey contributed to this story.

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