Judge Rejects Potts Bid to be Included in Debate

By: Lisa Ferrari
By: Lisa Ferrari

October 7, 2005

Tonight a federal judge denied Independent candidate Russ Potts request to be included in this Sunday's televised gubernatorial debate. Independent candidate Russ Potts hoped to force the debate sponsors to include him, and his attorney fought to change the rules, but to no avail.

There will only be two candidates going head-to-head in this Sunday's televised gubernatorial debate.

In a last effort, independent candidate for Virginia governor Russ Potts filed a lawsuit trying to force the debate's sponsors to include him.

"The best way to defeat these candidates is to keep them from taking part in these major debates," said Daniel Carrell, Potts' Attorney.

At U.S. Federal Court in Charlottesville Friday, Russ Pott's attorney fought to have his client included in Sunday's only televised gubernatorial debate.

The independent candidate filed a lawsuit Thursday, claiming the center for politics and its director Larry Sabato were violating his rights to free speech by shutting him out.

"It ends up being a means of supporting our two major parties. And our constitution was not formed to support either the Republican party or the Democratic party," explained Carrell.

According to debate rules, Potts can participate if polls showed he has 15 percent or more of the vote. Recent polls say he's not even close to that number.

"We applied this 15% standard in both our Senate debate of 2000, and our gubernatorial debate of 2001," said Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics.

In fact 15% is standard across the board. It's even how we determine who takes part in presidential debates.

"You can't go around arbitrarily changing rules to benefit one candidate in one year," said Sabato.

Potts' attorney argued the 15% standard is too high and that it should be lowered so all future independent candidates will get their fair share.

Carrell said the current rule favors the Republican and Democratic parties and that the constitution wasn't made to strictly favor two government parties.

Potts and his running mates Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine agreed to the debate rules back in August.

"And Senator Potts himself said that he absolutely would qualify and he'd be over the 15% level by October," said Sabato.

With or without the debate, Potts may have gotten what he wanted all along.

"It's attracted some attention to the Potts camp. So who knows--maybe the dispute will help them and that's the political game," said Sabato.

This game may have played out at the courthouse in favor of both parties--with Russ Potts getting the publicity he needed, and the Center for Politics getting the last word.

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