Presidential debate commission acknowledges third party run

The co-chairmen of the Commission on Presidential Debates, whose non-profit organization runs the general election contests every four years, have hinted that they are preparing to include a third-party candidate in the debates this coming fall.

In an interview with PBS set to air Jan. 24, co-chair Michael McCurry said the following:

The dynamic in the electorate right now and the dissatisfaction with the two major political parties could very conceivably allow an independent or a third-party candidate to emerge, and we are very clear that they would be welcome in these debates.”

The Commission, established in 1987, requires a candidate to be polling at 15 percent nationally on average, and “appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College”, to be eligible to participate.

With so-called “outsider” candidates polling well so far this election cycle, the possibility of an independent presidential bid gaining significant support seems more likely in 2016 than it has in over two decades.

Former Virginia senator Jim Webb, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg have both indicated some level of interest in launching an independent or third-party presidential run.

On Jan. 6, Gov. Johnson announced he will run for the Libertarian Party nomination, and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both been rumored to seek an alternative route to the White House if they fail to win their respective party’s primaries.

In June 2015, Johnson joined a lawsuit filed by political advocacy group Level the Playing Field against the presidential commission, to include more candidates in the general election debates.

PBS interviewer Alexander Heffner commented afterward that the co-chairmen are “aware” of the public’s appetite for an independent presidential candidate.

“The two-party system, to many Americans, has disillusioned them to the point of questioning whether this is a democracy,” Heffner said. “And these men have a role to play in determining who is on that stage.”

The last non-Democratic or Republican candidate to be included in the presidential debates was businessman Ross Perot in 1992, who ran without a party affiliation.

When Perot ran again in 1996 on the Reform Party ticket, the organization decided not to include him.

The Commission has scheduled three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate in 2016.  The first contest will be held September 26 in Dayton, Ohio.


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