A race changer?

August 11, 2008

Mitch Daniels and Jill Long Thompson seem pleased with, or at least accepting of, the three debates that have been scheduled. Andy Horning is downright ecstatic:

Horning is the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, and those three debates likely will be his only chance to reach a statewide audience as he competes against Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Democratic nominee, former U.S. Rep. Jill Long Thompson.

“I’ll debate anybody, anytime, anywhere,” Horning said. “I wish there were more than just the three.”

There are two schools of thought on letting someone other than the two major-party candidates participate in debates. One holds that one of those two is going to win, and letting a third-party candidate in just takes away time they get to speak and hurts voters who are still trying to decide. The other says that even if such a candidate has no realistic chance of winning, he’s in the race and deserves to be heard, and a debate is the best shot he has of getting his views out.

I’ve inclined to the latter school in my years of covering politics. Even in years when we’ve had more candidates than our staff could easily handle, we’ve always invited third-party candidates to participate in our endorsement interviews, and we’ve even surprised one or two along the way with an endorsement. 

As someone with little-l libertarian instincts if not big-L Libertarian affiliations, it’s always annoyed me that Indiana is one of the hardest states for a non-Democrat or -Republican to get on the ballot. Third parties seldom have a chance to win, but they can change the political dialogue. Democrats were greatly influenced by some Socialist thinking early in the last century, and Libertarians had some impact on the Republicans in recent years. And they can affect the outcome of a close race, as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader have. If Daniels and Long Thompson are close, and a lot of Republicans still think too many of Daniels’ initiatives have made government bigger or more intrusive, Long Thompson could be thanking Horning come November.

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