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Inside Politics

Reform Party Likely to be Excluded From Presidential Debates

Aired January 6, 2000 - 5:14 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: When the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees debate one another this fall, it now seems unlikely that a Reform Party candidate will be on the stage with them. A special commission announced new criteria today for participation in those debates.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve begins our coverage of a decision that may cause serious problems for the already fractured Reform Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL KIRK, CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: The candidate, regardless of party, regardless of affiliation, have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the prospective voters in the general election.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With that, the Commission on Presidential Debates settled one of the most controversial issues of campaign 2000: How a candidate gets a seat in the all-important fall debates.

One week before the first debate, the commission will take an average of five polls: CNN/"USA Today" Gallup, NBC/"Wall Street Journal," CBS/"New York Times," ABC News/"Washington Post," and Fox News/"Opinion Dynamics." Anyone with 15 percent or more gets into the October 3rd debate, as well as the vice presidential debate two days later. Everyone else is cut out.

The commission will repeat the exercise for the last two debates. It's a major change from 1996, when a far more complex formula was used to exclude Ross Perot. Perot sued the commission and lost. But the criticism stung, and this time the commission decided to keep it simple.

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: So there's no question of anyone being able to hide the ball, change the results. The results are out there. They're very transparent.

MESERVE: Meeting that 15 percent standard could be critical to this year's Reform Party nominee. The last time a third-party candidate got into the debates was 1992.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1992) ROSS PEROT (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And you are going to hear a giant sucking sound of jobs being pulled out of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Perot took 19 percent in that election, but four years later, after he was excluded, Perot got just nine percent.

Whether Perot's poor showing was a result of his exclusion is an open question, but there are certainly examples of long-shot candidates boosting their polls with a good debate performance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1998)

JESSE VENTURA (REF), MINNESOTA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: What is matter with industrial hemp? There's a product that will create new jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: In the 1998 Minnesota governor's race, Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura was going nowhere until he was allowed into the debates. And the rest is history.

Pat Buchanan is a skilled debater. Here he is in a 1996 GOP primary debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1996)

PAT BUCHANAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My flat tax is a middle-class tax cut. Yours looks like one that was worked up by the boys at the yacht basin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: But he's got a long way to go to get into the 2000 presidential debates. In our latest hypothetical three-way match-ups with the leading Democratic and Republican candidates, Buchanan draws around five percent. His possible Reform Party rival, Donald Trump, draws 10 percent in a similar match-up.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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