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Third-party presidential debate gives a voice to long-shot candidates

Four third-party candidates below President Obama and Mitt Romney on the presidential ballot made their case to a televised audience, taking on issues not included in the mainstream debates: the drug war, bailout for student loans, and corporate influence in politics.

By Staff writer / October 24, 2012


Washington

If the four long-shot presidential contenders are “kind of Don Quixotes,” as debate moderator Larry King put it, then at least on Tuesday night their windmill jousting would be televised.

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Those who saw Jill Stein (Green Party), Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) square off at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago on C-SPAN or streamed online got a glimpse of the little-known contenders below President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney on the ballot in many states.

What the public saw was broad agreement on issues ranging from the war on drugs (end it) to the future of American military spending (reduce it), as well as a handful of proposals from each candidate that stand in stark relief to the policies of either Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney.

The debate, supported by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation and moderated by Mr. King and the foundation’s Christina Tobin, offered an opportunity for the little-known candidates to make their cases to the public in a forum that was “good and real and honest and open, without debate contracts and private interests,” as Ms. Tobin put it.

Whether by their near-zero polling numbers or the strictures of a two-party political system, these candidates were shut out of the more heavily watched debates between Obama and Romney. (Mr. Johnson garnered enough support to be included in a single candidates' debate during the GOP primary process, however.)

The candidates found plenty of common ground. All four opposed rules that winnow contenders for public office, saying they are bad for democracy and unnecessarily limit voter choices. All supported reductions in American military spending. All said they would have vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act.

All but Mr. Goode said they would legalize marijuana and end the “war on drugs.” Goode said he would keep marijuana illegal but would cut spending on drug enforcement as part of his plan to deeply reduce federal spending in his first year in office.

But the candidates did open up some policy proposals sharply different from one another and from the two major-party presidential candidates.

Dr. Stein and Mr. Anderson called for free higher education for all Americans, with Stein pointing out the benefits from the original, post-World War II G.I. bill and Anderson arguing that other industrialized nations have already achieved such a system.

Johnson and Goode ridiculed the sentiment as ignoring the reality of America’s beleaguered fiscal condition.

“ ‘Free’ comes with a cost,” Johnson said. “ ‘Free’ is accumulating more to the $16 trillion in debt than we already have. ‘Free’ has gotten us to the point where we are going to have a monetary collapse.”

When asked to offer one constitutional amendment they would most like to see passed, the candidates again diverged. Anderson argued for a “new Equal Rights Amendment” enshrining protection from discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

Johnson and Goode said they would push for term limits for Congress – something they say would keep members focused on achievement instead of political longevity.

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