Welcome to the Presidential debate you won't get to hear. Reform Party candidate Patrick J. Buchanan and Green Party nominee Ralph Nader will be shut out of the national debates officially because their poll numbers are in the single digits--and therefore they don't qualify under the rules of the Republican- and Democratic-controlled Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. The larger reason: Both George W. Bush and Al Gore want to keep them on the sidelines.
Although Buchanan and Nader represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, they agree on a surprising number of issues. Both are populists who bash Corporate America for caring too much about profits and too little about workers. They decry free-trade deals with Latin America and China that, they say, export jobs and drive down U.S. wages. And they deplore the clout of corporate money in politics.
Buchanan, pithy pundit and former aide to Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and Nader, America's leading advocate for consumer rights, believe the Republican and Democratic parties have become such mirror images that voters no longer have a clear choice. Both believe Americans hunger for a third way. But their nascent movements aren't getting much traction in the absence of media attention.
Even so, Democrats fret that Nader could siphon votes from Gore in California, Colorado, and Oregon, where the Greens have had a strong following. Correspondent Lorraine Woellert caught up with Nader on Aug. 30 during a swing through Long Island, N.Y. Even in tony Southampton, some 400 followers turned out to hear Nader label the economic expansion a windfall for the lucky few.
Buchanan, who threw a scare into the Republican Establishment in 1996 with his early primary victories, is finding the going tougher in 2000. He jumped to the Reform Party, won its nomination in a battle that split the party, and had to wage a legal fight for control of $12.6 million in federal election money. Besides that, two gall-bladder surgeries forced him off the campaign trail for four weeks. On Sept. 11, a recovered Buchanan spoke with Correspondents Richard S. Dunham and Amy Borrus in his spacious McLean (Va.) home.