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Election Commission Is Justified In Denying Perot

Column by David S. Kelman
Columnist

Last week, the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to include only Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in their debates this year. As a result, Ross Perot has found himself excluded from an important event in the presidential campaign. Perot, of course, has not passively accepted this news; he is attempting to get a restraining order issued to stop the debates. Perot argues that he has a right to be included in the debates as a serious candidate and that he is a victim of partisan politics. The commission ruled that Perot does not have a realistic chance of winning the election. I agree with the commission's ruling and think little reason exists to include Perot in the debates.

First, I would like to examine just how much of a chance Perot really has of winning the election. In 1992, Perot gained 19 percent of the popular vote, but he did not win a single state. Thus, Perot received no votes in the Electoral College, the means to winning the presidency. This time around, various polls have consistently placed Perot's support in the single digits. If 19 percent of the vote did not net Perot any states, winning even a single state in 1996 with single digit support would require an unforeseen concentration of support in a single state. Needless to say, a remote possibility of winning a single state does not translate into a reasonable chance of winning the entire election.

Of course, some people may now argue that Bob Dole does not have a real chance of winning the election anymore, either. Recent polls assert that Dole has the support of slightly under 40 percent of the voting population, while Clinton has slightly more than 50 percent. Allowing for a reasonable possibility of a five percent shift in support, the two candidates could find themselves running almost even. Add the peculiarities of the Electoral College system to this (keep in mind that Clinton won the 1992 election with less than a majority of the popular vote), and Dole certainly has a reasonable enough chance of winning the election to be included in the debates.

Second, let's examine Perot's claim that he is a victim of partisan politics. The fact that Dole benefits from Perot's exclusion is fairly clear; Perot has indicated that he has more desire to attack Dole and his policies than Clinton. Indeed, after the commission's ruling, the Clinton campaign attempted to get Perot in, while the Dole campaign threatened to skip out on a Perot-inclusive debate.

The fact of the matter is, though, that the group that unanimously decided on Perot's exclusion consisted of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic party is quite possibly more united behind Bill Clinton this year than any candidate or election in recent memory. Yet every Democrat involved in the decision voted against Perot, and thus against the Clinton campaign's desires. This result certainly does not appear to be partisan politics.

Third, the fact that Perot receives more attention than your average third party candidate does not necessarily translate to a reasonable chance of winning the election. A significant reason Perot is able to even garner so much attention is his capability of using his own wealth to advertise himself.

For a similar example, take Michael Coles, co-founder of the Great American Cookie Company. Coles, who is running against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is currently using his personal wealth to blitz the public in Gingrich's congressional district in Georgia. Coles may be getting a lot more attention than the average candidate, but does that give him a fighting chance in Cobb County, Georgia, infamous for its consistently conservative vote and an anti-gay resolution that resulted in an Olympic boycott? No way, no how.

Finally, some may argue that Perot should be included on the basis that the Reform Party is a legitimate up-and-coming political party. While the Reform Party may have had the chance to prove its earnestness this summer, Perot himself effectively prevented it. The fact that Perot, the party's overwhelming financial supporter, ran for the party's nomination makes the Reform Party appear as little more than a self-funded device for Perot to look more legitimate in the presidential election.

The continuing accusations that the actual vote for a nominee was accidentally or purposely rigged or slanted in Perot's favor adds little to the Reform Party's legitimacy. If the commission awarded debate spots based on a party's legitimacy alone, then perhaps the Libertarian Party, which has been around consistently for many years, would deserve a spot before the Reform Party would.

The fact is, Ross Perot needs to accept the fact that his support is minimal and that the Commission on Presidential Debates is well within its bounds to exclude him. Maybe as a consolation, Perot will take Maine this time around.