WASHINGTON — Third-party presidential candidates finally will have their own debate: at 8 p.m. Sunday at Columbia University in New York.
The debate, which will be announced Wednesday, will include at least three of the four third-party candidates — independent Ralph Nader, the Green Party's Cynthia McKinney and the Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin. Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr said he has a scheduling conflict, but debate organizers say he wanted to appear only with Nader. (Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain are also invited.)
Nader and Barr are on the ballot in 45 states, while the Green Party is on 31 state ballots and the Constitution Party is on the ballot in 37 states. Nader and McKinney also are on the District of Columbia ballot.
Organizers say the debate is an important exercise in democracy, especially because the debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates (the last of which is Wednesday night) exclude candidates scoring below 15 percent in national polls. Nader, the best known of the candidates, has an average of 2.5 percent in recent national polls, according to realclearpolitics.com, while Barr averages 1.5 percent.
Nader maintains that if he could get into the debates run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, his numbers would immediately climb because "two-thirds of the people don't know we're running."
"It's a Catch-22."
Nader describes the debate commission as "a two-party dictatorial company that doesn't want anybody else on the stage." The commission, created in 1987, is a corporation headed by two former chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties.
But third-party critics of the system recently got some traction: the second of the presidential debates prompted a chorus of criticism of the "boring" format and the lack of follow-up questions.
Nader also will give the issue more visibility at a rally to open the debates Wednesday night at New York's historic Cooper Union Great Hall, where presidential candidates back to Abraham Lincoln have spoken.
The format for Sunday's third-party debate is still being finalized. It will be moderated by Pacifica radio host Amy Goodman. The issues promoted by the candidates strike a different chord from the major party standard-bearers — all four are against the $700 billion economic bailout and all oppose the Iraq war.
In addition, each has his or her own agenda: Nader rails against corporate greed while McKinney promotes environmental causes. The Libertarian Party is a critic of monetary policy and likes to invoke a return to the gold standard. Baldwin of the Constitution Party represents a conservative, small government, anti-abortion party that wants to "restore the government to its biblical foundations."
The third-party debate will be streamed at www.thirdpartyticket.com and will be shown on C-Span.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY