Gary Johnson wins first Free and Equal Elections debate.
Johnson and Green candidate Jill Stein advance to a second debate in Washington, D.C. by George J. Dance
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, won the presidential debate hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation (FEE) on October 23. Four of the six candidates with a mathematical chance to win the election -- Johnson, Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party – participated in the 90-minute event,(1) which was followed by a 24 hour period in which viewers could vote for their favourites (using a ranked preference ballot). Close to 48,000 votes were cast.(2)
On October 25 the candidates’ vote totals were announced. Johnson was the clear favorite with 28,849 votes, followed in order by Stein with 15,305 votes, Anderson with 4,382, and Goode with 2,698. Johnson and Stein now advance to a one-on-one debate to be held in Washington, D.C.(3)
While Johnson performed well, his victory owes at least as much to his fan base as it does to his performance. He was the clear favorite even before he opened his mouth: when moderator Larry King announced Johnson’s name, the roar from the crowd drowned out the rest of King’s remarks and forced him to wait it out.
FEE chairman of the board Christina Tobin, who hosted the event with moderator King, had called the four-candidate lineup a nice mix of left- and right-wing viewpoints. Stein and Anderson both represented the leftist, progressive point of view equally well. Indeed, most of the evening they echoed each other, saying virtually the same thing whether the issue be civil liberties (repeal the National Defense Authorization Act, legalize medical marijuna), foreign policy (get out of Afghanistan, stay out of Syria), or economics (further expand government spending, further restrict corporations). One was left wondering why they were splitting that vote by running against each other.
Goode stayed true to the Constitution Party’s right-wing beliefs. While he tailored his standard policy speeches to fit the audience (glossing over his party’s anti-immigration beliefs to emphasize its commitment to cutting federal spending, and giving well-received Ron Paul-style arguments for a humble foreign policy and for some constitutional rights, he refused to pander. For instance, he declared that he would take no action to legalize marijuana; receiving scattered boos for that, he bluntly told his hecklers to vote for one of the other candidates.
Gary Johnson also stayed true, but to his libertarian beliefs, and by doing so managed to reach out to both left and right: agreeing with Stein and Anderson on civil-liberties and foreign-policy matters and with Goode on everything from spending cuts to term limits. He also introduced some unique proposals, such as abolishing all income and corporate taxes.
Moderator Larry King kept the event informal, perhaps too much so. For one thing, he persistently referred to the candidates by first name rather than title. He also fumbled a bit, most especially when, after mentioning that the candidates would lead with an opening statement, he went immediately into the first question, and had to get back to opening statements 20 minutes later. "‘There were no opening statements in my notes,’ he said a bit defensively, although he himself had described the format not five minutes before."(4)
King did a good job of ensuring that time was fairly divided and that the candidates held to it.; and, in fairness, the opening statement faux pas was equally the fault of Tobin (who asked the first question). Both Tobin and King could have benefitted from a dress rehearsal, even one with stand-ins for the candidates.
Regardless of his performance, King deserves major credit for the credibility and press attention he brought to the event. At one point, when King was apologizing for forgetting the opening statements, he was told (by Johnson) that probably more Americans were watching because of him than because of any candidate.
While the debate received little advance attention from the main stream media, it generated some after-the-fact coverage, including a five-minute television segment on PBS News Hour.(5)
UPDATE, October 29 - The original date for the second-round debate between Johnson and Stein was October 30. On October 28, FEE abruptly announced on its website that the event had been postponed: "the date of the second open-party Presidential debate has changed to November 5" due to Hurricane Sandy. Time and place are unchanged: "The November 5 debate will be held from 9:00pm to 10:30pm Eastern Time at RT America’s state of the art studio.... RT America will open its studio and offer a live, neutral feed via satellite." There is still no information on the moderator, who will be announced "next week."(6)
(3) Josh Hicks, "Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will debate one-on-one," Election 2012 blog, Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2012. Web, Oct. 26, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/10/26/gary-johnson-and-jill-stein-will-debate-one-on-one/
(4) Jean Mackenzie, "Third-Party Debate: Ready for Prime Time?", Global Post, Oct. 24, 2012. Web, Oct. 26, 2012. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/highway-2012/third-parties-debate-larry-king-stein-anderson-goode-johnson
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