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Unseen third-party candidates get own debate

Four third-party candidates running for US president held their own debate Tuesday in Chicago, telling audience members that neither incumbent Barack Obama nor Republican Mitt Romney had addressed America’s most pressing problems.


Four third-party presidential candidates who have struggled to get attention in a presidential race dominated by Democratic and Republican rivalries finally shared their views with a broad range of voters on Tuesday night as they took part in their own debate in Chicago.

A day after Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney jousted over foreign policy in their third and final debate in Boca Raton, Florida, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein, the Constitution Party's Virgil Goode and the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson took the opportunity to discuss - among other things - immigration, the legalization of drugs and climate change.

Gary Johnson - Libertarian

In a debate moderated by former CNN anchor Larry King, the four focused their criticism less on each other than on the president and the Republican nominee.

While the four long-shot presidential hopefuls represent widely opposing views, at Tuesday’s debate they all railed against what they consider the overstepping of presidential powers and the intrusion of big business in government. They repeatedly called out Obama and Romney for offering poor answers to the country’s most pressing problems.

Free universities and zero immigrants

The casual tone of the debate – a far cry from the inhibited, carefully orchestrated tenor of the encounters between Obama and Romney – was reflected by the event’s own awkward moment: after spending several minutes answering the first round of questions, the debaters asked Larry King if they would be allowed to deliver their opening statements.

Jill Stein - Green Party

Throughout the evening, the four candidates delved into policy issues and subjects that have been studiously dodged by the Democratic and Republican nominees during the campaign.

Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, attacked the increasing reach of big business in government, humourously suggesting that Obama and Romney should wear racecar-driver style jackets emblazoned with their corporate sponsors. The Libertarian candidate said as president he would end the war in Afghanistan and cut defense spending by 43 percent.

The Green Party’s Stein, who ran for governor of Massachusetts against Romney in 2002, said she supported free higher education for all - modeled on the post-World War II GI Bill, under which returning veterans received cash payments to cover university fees. “Let’s bail out the students,” she said.

Virgil Goode - Constitution Party

Goode, a former Virginia congressman, said he would freeze all new green cards (foreign resident permits) until the unemployment rate dropped below five percent. “We need jobs in America for US citizens first,” Goode said.

Anderson, who served two terms as the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, said he backed the legalization of marijuana and regretted that climate change was being completely ignored by the frontrunners. He said climate change was “a greater long-term risk to the United States than terrorism.”

Can third partiers weigh in?

The minute attention that third party candidates tend to garner on a national level – a September Gallup poll showed none of them attracting more than one percent of the popular vote – was reflected in the national television networks' decision to ignore last night's debate. Although no television networks aired the event, it was streamed online and was the subject of many blogs and US media articles on Wednesday.

Rocky Anderson - Justice Party

Some observers questioned if the outsider candidates could actually affect the outcome of the overall election by weighing in on races in crucial states.

Post-debate, The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan wrote: “If Virginia is exceptionally close, Goode, despite attracting just two-percent support in a mid-September poll of Virginia voters, could be an also-ran to remember, causing some discomfort for Romney supporters.”

Virginia is seen as a key swing state in the current race, and critical to Romney's chances of winning.

Political analysts have argued that support for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the kingmaker state of Florida in 2000 came mostly from voters who would have otherwise voted for Al Gore and that the third-party ticket ultimately cost the Democrats the entire election.

With the 2000 contest in mind, Romney may be hoping that neither Goode nor Johnson - who likes to brandish his fiscal conservatism and distinct brand of libertarianism - get more attention from voters. Either way, a second debate between the two third-party candidates with the most votes from an online tally taken after Tuesday’s debate is scheduled for October 30.

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