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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Potts’ deadline for debate looming; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — “Operation Upset” is running out of time to get its candidate on to the stage. But there’s still some time left on the clock.

Independent gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, has a little over a week to qualify for the last gubernatorial debate before voters go to the polls.

Organizers of the Oct. 9 debate in Richmond have set a 15 percent threshold for participation. To be on the stage, candidates have to have tallied at 15 percent or more in two independent polls.

Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine and former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the GOP contender, have met the standard since the earliest days of the campaign, each taking home more than 30 points in every poll this year.

Potts, however, has yet to break into double digits since announcing his candidacy in February. A July Mason-Dixon survey found his support at 9 percent, but the campaign has dropped to anywhere from 4 percent to 6 percent in subsequent polls.

The cutoff for polling is Oct. 6 at 10 a.m., according to a spokesman for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, one of the debate’s sponsors.

The Potts campaign says it still thinks the only standard that should be used to include candidates in the debate is whether they’re on the ballot.

“This is [expletive],” said Tom D’Amore, Potts’ top consultant, on Wednesday. “We don’t accept that there ought to be an artificial threshold. I think it’s an embarrassment that an institution” like the Center for Politics would exclude Potts.

Press Secretary Mike McCall said he wasn’t aware of any contact between the Potts campaign and any of the firms monitoring the race.

Potts hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the debate yet. There will be at least one more poll released before the deadline.

A spokesman for Rasmussen Research, one of the three firms that has been polling the Virginia race regularly, said the company does plan to release a poll in the next seven days.

Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, which has produced two of the most anticipated polls of the campaign so far, said Tuesday that it has no plans to poll again until after the October throw-down — with one exception.

“If [Potts] gets one [poll at 15 percent], we’ll consider doing our [next poll] earlier in order to give him the opportunity to get the second set of numbers,” said J. Bradford Coker, the firm’s managing director.

SurveyUSA has also followed the race, producing polls for WSLS-TV in Roanoke and WUSA-TV in Washington. The Washington Post also commissioned a poll earlier this month.

The Oct. 9 melee will likely carry more weight than the two previous scrums this year between Kaine and Kilgore because of the potential audience.

Moderated by U.Va.’s Larry Sabato, the debate at WWBT-TV’s studios in Richmond will be broadcast live via satellite to any television station in the commonwealth that wants to carry it.

WVPT-TV, the public television station in Harrisonburg, will carry the broadcast live.