Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Should Perot Take Part in Debates?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Should Perot Take Part in Debates?

Article excerpt

American voters are entitled to see candidates with a "realistic" chance of being our next president face off in a series of television debates. But the Clinton campaign is eager to include sure-loser Ross Perot. Clinton staff chief Leon Panetta, trying to build up Perot's small percentage and siphon off the fed-up-with-Clinton vote, said Sunday he "hoped and expected" Perot to be in the debates.

From his new seat in the Morris chair, Panetta knows that a three-man show would reduce the front-runner's risk of major Dole gains in a direct confrontation. The White House strategy: play it safe, sit on the lead.

Unfortunately for Dole, his people are hemming and hawing. Do they want Perot as a show-stealing buffer against the vaunted Clinton debating sk ills? No; they fear they might alienate protest voters by vigorously standing up for the two-party system. Who will decide whether Clinton will get his wish to play the debate safe by bringing in Perot to attack Dole's tax-cut plan? A committee of five academics chaired by Professor Richard Neustadt of Harvard will make its recommendation next week to the bipartisan, 10-person Commission on Presidential Debates, headed by former party chairmen Paul Kirk of the Democrats and Frank Fahrenkopf of the GOP. The commission (which wants three 90-minute debates plus one vice-presidential, single moderator each, varied formats) has published its criteria for eligibility. Its central, overriding, repeated criterion for participation in the debates: "the realistic chance of being elected." How is that determined? One is evidence of national organization. Perot has that, as does the 50-state Libertarian Party, with the Green Party starring Ralph Nader getting there. And Perot, thanks to his heavy personal spending in 1992 that bought his way into the debates then, is getting $30 million in taxpayer funds to spend this year. (No wonder five out of six taxpayers now refuse to check off the box on their returns that subsidizes politicians.) Another is indicators of national public enthusiasm. Do major polls show Perot with a realistic chance of winning? No. Polls at this stage swing wildly, but not one indicator shows Perot in a tight race for second place. …

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