Alan Keyes, the conservative former talk show host, seemed to show up out of nowhere for the Des Moines Register's Republican presidential debate Wednesday. Turns out he announced his candidacy back in September, though it had garnered little attention.
In the Iowa newspaper's October poll, however, Keyes attracted the support of 2% of likely Republican caucus-goers, making him eligible for inclusion in the debate. A diplomat in the Reagan era, the 57-year-old Keyes ran in 1996 and 2000 as well.
Keyes brought his voluble, confrontational style to what was a fairly low-key debate, calling for the abolition of the income tax, the restitution of God to the schoolhouse and an end to abortion.
Though his opponents mostly ignored him, he managed at one point to bulldoze moderator Carolyn Washburn, the Register editor, into giving him more time than she had allotted, which he used to launch an all-out attack on the men next to him on stage.
Keyes had been on the attack from the start.
"These folks represent the very elite who, year after year after year, have destroyed our Constitution, betrayed our rights and undermined our strength created by our people in the world," he said at one point.
After Washburn asked about global warming, Keyes piped up: "I'm in favor of reducing global warming, because I think the most important emission we need to control is the hot air emission of politicians who pretend one thing and don't deliver."
Keyes attacked former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for his pro-choice stance and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for coming late to his antiabortion position.
A short time later, Keyes interrupted Washburn to insist he be called on to answer a question about education.
"I'm getting to you," said Washburn.
"No, you're not," replied Keyes. "You haven't since several go-rounds, so I have to make an issue of it."
Washburn relented and told him he had 30 seconds for his answer.
"They had a minute. Why do I get 30 seconds?" he asked, then took a little over a minute to make an impassioned plea for a return to "a moral culture."
For Keyes, it was the second time in the national spotlight during this year's campaign. He appeared at a forum broadcast on PBS in September and moderated by Tavis Smiley, a talk show host. But unlike the Wednesday debate, four of the top-tier candidates skipped that forum.
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Making the grade
Here are the criteria the Des Moines Register used to determine which candidates would be invited to participate in this week's debates. Neither former Democratic Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska nor Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) met the third or fourth criteria, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
1. Candidates must have filed an "Statement of Candidacy" form with the Federal Election Commission.
2. Candidates must have publicly announced an intention to run for the nomination of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party for president of the United States.
3. Candidates must have had a campaign office in Iowa as of Oct. 1.
4. Candidates must have employed at least one paid campaign staff representative to perform full-time campaign duties in Iowa on behalf of the candidate since at least Oct. 1.
5. Candidates must have had at least a 1% support showing in the Des Moines Register's October 2007 Iowa Poll.
Source: Des Moines Register