The Debate Club

As the candidates race toward November, a question from the bleachers: Who should be invited to the televised debates that begin September 25? Besides President Clinton and Bob Dole, should viewers -- as many as 100 million people -- be allowed to see the leading alternatives, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader? Since each has more than 5 percent support in national opinion polls, each is on the ballot in enough states to win (theoretically) an Electoral College majority and -- most important -- each will certainly influence the vote in many key states, we think the answer is a resounding Yes.Since 1988, the debates have been sponsored by a commission set up and presided over by two former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. (now a lobbyist for the gambling industry) and Paul Kirk Jr. (now managing partner in a large Washington lobbying firm). One could argue that the parties have no business overseeing these affairs -- that control of the debates is one of the tightest choke points protecting the political duopoly. However, as a tax-exempt organization devoted to "voter education," the commission has recognized its obligation to open the debates to non--major party candidates.Perot and Nader easily meet most of the commission's criteria for national organization and newsworthiness. What's tougher to judge is whether they're "principal rivals for the presidency." Here the commission should take a broad view. Its decision in September 1992 to invite Perot -- then at a modest 6 percent in opinion surveys -- was an education for voters and undoubtedly got more people out to the polls. Surely that's more to the point than locking the spotlight on the front-runners.Linkage: The Commission on Presidential Debates welcomes citizen comment on the 1996 debates. To urge the Commission to include Nader and/or Perot, send e-mail to debates96@usa.pipeline.org. To be considered valid, your message must include your full name, city and state. You can also call the commission at (202) 872-1020. For more information on the Commission, visit http://www.debates96.org

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