Tuesday night’s third party presidential debate proved to be more exciting than any of the “real” presidential debates combined. The debate, hosted by Free & Equal Live and moderated by former CNN host Larry King, featured Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. (Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were invited to attend, but both campaigns declined.)
Gary Johnson was the most popular candidate in attendance that night and probably stands the best chance of capturing the highest percentage of the national vote among thirdparty candidates. His passionate and emphatic closing statements regarding not wasting one’s vote by voting for Obama or Romney solicited huge cheers from the crowd and set off a flurry of tweets in the Twittersphere.
Virgil Goode’s policy positions were probably the least popular, but the crowd seemed to respond favorably to his honest and frank answers.
For the first half of the evening, the candidates seemed to share similar opinions on many of the issues discussed: ending the two-party system, decriminalizing drugs, and reducing military spending. It wasn’t until the topic turned to the cost of education that the candidates started to really differentiate themselves. Virgil Goode and Gary Johnson advocated ending guaranteed student loans whereas Rocky Anderson and Jill Stein supported the idea of free education for all. One of the best lines of the night came from Gary Johnson during this line of questioning: “Free comes with a cost.”
Yes, at times the lack of structure and formality felt almost too “grassroots,” particularly in the shadows of the highly publicized and resource-rich debates between Romney and Obama. And, knowing none of these candidates have a shot in hell of actually winning might have made you pity, more than praise, the whole affair. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing debate and offered those voters frustrated with the cartel that is our two-party electoral system a chance to hear their candidate voice their opinion on the issues.
For those interested, there will be another debate on Oct. 30. Viewers of the first debate will determine which candidate advances to the October 30 debate via an instant runoff voting.