The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Debate Debate; Editorial Page

Haggling over formats for political debates is largely an insiders’ game, but the debate debate has special significance in the gubernatorial race because of the independent candidacy of Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., the Winchester Republican.

Potts has been barnstorming the state, talking candidly about a range of issues, including some the major party candidates prefer to downplay.

A recent poll put his support at 9 percent of Virginia voters and by all accounts he made a bigger splash at the Virginia Association of Counties meeting than either Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate, or Republican Jerry Kilgore, the former attorney general.

Despite those positive signs, which the Potts campaign sees as “momentum,” he has yet to earn a spot on the same stage with Kaine and Kilgore. He was excluded from their debate at the meeting of the state bar association, which said it has always invited only the two major party candidates.

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors a debate next month, offered the same explanation, a position challenged this week by 15 former chamber chairmen who say Potts deserves to be included.

Underlying the public rationales are the antipathy of the Kilgore campaign to Potts’ insurgent candidacy and the sponsors’ fear that Kilgore, widely viewed as uncomfortable in give-and-take formats, would renege if Potts were included.

Kilgore has agreed to a third debate in October, masterminded by Larry Sabato, the U.Va. political guru, that will include Potts if his poll support reaches 15 percent, the same standard used to include “fringe” candidates in presidential debates.

That arbitrary benchmark, however, ignores Potts’ political experience, his familiarity with the issues and his willingness to confront the challenges facing the Old Dominion. He’s earned a spot on the ballot and a place in debates and Virginians deserve to hear him.