WASHINGTON -- The Reform Party's presidential candidate and anyone other than the Republican and Democratic nominees could be excluded from presidential debates in the fall under new criteria established by an independent commission.
The decision angered Pat Buchanan, the former Republican turned Reform presidential candidate, who called he panel's decision Thursday a ''transparent farce.'' He stressed that the Reform Party is nationally recognized, and that its candidate should be included.
''Let's be plain: This is nothing but a Beltway conspiracy by the two establishment parties to corner the market forever on the presidency of the United States,'' he said.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan group created in 1987 as an impartial sponsor of the debates, said the stage for nationally televised debates would be limited to candidates with at least 15 percent support in national public opinion surveys.
Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., the former Republican Party chief who is co-chairman of the commission, said the rules would limit the three scheduled debates to the ''realistic principal rivals to be president of the United States.''
The arrangement, he said, ''strikes a balance between reality and fairness.''
The commission set two qualifications for participation:
-- Candidates must appear on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority in the Electoral College.
-- They also must have an average of 15 percent support in five major national polls: ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times, NBC-Wall Street Journal, CNN-USA Today-Gallup and Fox News-Opinion Dynamics.
Buchanan was not the only one incensed by the decision.
Donald Trump, the New York real estate developer who is considering a run for the Reform Party nomination, said, ''I am not surprised that the two-party political establishment wants to keep the American people from having a third choice.'' He also threatened legal action.
The Libertarian Party also criticized the commission's rules.
''Their new criteria will unfairly exclude candidates with a chance to win the election, or with the potential to win the support of a substantial number of American voters. That's just wrong,'' said party national director Steve Dasbach.
Janet Brown, executive director of the commission, rejected the criticism.
''It would seem premature for any candidate to attack them given the fact we won't be applying them until late September,'' Brown said. ''By publishing these criteria 10 months before the election that we hope to make it absolutely clear to the candidates and the public how we will make these determinations.''
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