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  Three Show at Judicial Watch Debate

By Leigh Strope
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Oct. 20, 2000; 10:48 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– With four empty lecterns bearing the names of Bush, Gore, Nader and Buchanan, a presidential debate Friday night was more about who wasn't there than who was.

Of the seven candidates invited, only three attended: Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne, Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin and Constitution Party candidate Howard Phillips.

Vice President Al Gore had agreed to participate in the debate on governmental ethics, sponsored by Judicial Watch, but withdrew after his camp reached an agreement with Texas Gov. George W. Bush for three presidential commission debates. Bush never accepted.

"The invitation was extended to the candidates before they met and discussed the presidential commission debates," said Gore campaign spokeswoman Jano Cabrera.

Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan declined to participate after learning Gore would not be there, Judicial Watch officials said.

But that didn't deter the other third-party candidates, who arguably are vying for fourth, fifth or even sixth place in the presidential election. The absent candidates – especially Bush and Gore – were the target of those who were there.

Hagelin said important governmental reforms such as women's voting rights, child labor laws and the abolition of slavery only have been accomplished through the third-party candidates. Those candidates did not win, but created a movement that spurred change in the two-party system. Gore and Bush are too indebted to special interests to lead reform, he said.

"Reforms will have to come from two candidates not marinated in oil," Hagelin said.

Browne tried to counter voters' concerns about throwing away their votes by backing a third-party candidate. He said Americans should vote for a candidate who will reduce the government, not "the person who will take me to hell at the slowest possible rate."

Phillips got the only standing ovation of the night when he passionately denounced abortion and pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who would ban it.

"Republicans appointed seven out of nine justices," he said. "Apparently they think they need nine out of nine to stop abortion."

But Hagelin said he supports a woman's right to chose – not the government's.

"That decision should be made and left to us – a woman, her doctor and her family," he said.

All three said they would not support renewal of the law creating the independent counsel, saying partisanship has rendered it ineffective.

Browne said government should not be used as "an agent of morality." Phillips shot back: "I want to assure Harry that Bill Clinton and Al Gore have taken his advice – morality is not in government."

To some who attended, the debate was refreshing.

"They weren't wishy-washy," said Geneva Hopper, 43, of Joppa, Md. "They didn't say just what you wanted to hear."

But Hopper, who owns a roofing business with her husband and home-schools her children, said she will vote for Bush because supporting one of the third-party candidates "is almost like a Perot vote, a wasted vote," she said, referring to Reform Party founder Ross Perot.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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