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Alternative Presidential Candidates Face Off in Third Party Debate in Chicago

October 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Four alternative candidates to Mitt Romney and President Obama -- Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Virgil Goode and Rocky Anderson -- met in Chicago for a third party debate to discuss everything from halting the war on drugs to reducing military spending to curbing the influence of money in politics. Kwame Holman reports.

GWEN IFILL: The campaign spotlight may be missing some issues, but it is also missing some of the candidates, including four who are running for president. Last night, they held their own debate in Chicago.

Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: With the presidential race in a dead heat between the two major contenders, third parties could draw just enough votes in some states to tip the balance.

GARY JOHNSON, Libertarian Party: Look, there’s only a couple of voices being heard here, and it’s Tweedle-Dee and it’s Tweedle-Dum.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Libertarian Party nominee, Gary Johnson, was one of four alternative candidates featured in last night’s debate at the Chicago Hilton Hotel. Jill Stein of the green party also took part, along with the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode and Rocky Anderson, nominee of the Justice Party.

The nonprofit Free and Equal Elections Foundation hosted the debate, and former CNN host Larry King moderated, with questions culled from social media.

There was some momentary confusion at the outset.

WOMAN: Let’s go ahead and do — let’s do opening statements. My apologies.

LARRY KING, moderator: I didn’t know we had opening statements, and I thought we were right to the questions.

KWAME HOLMAN: The candidates then proceeded to address everything from halting the war on drugs to reducing military spending to curbing the influence of money in politics.

The Justice Party candidate, Rocky Anderson:

ROCKY ANDERSON, Justice Party: The corrupting influence of money in this country is at the root of every major policy disaster. It’s why we don’t have health care for all, as in rest of industrialized world.

It’s why we aren’t providing international leadership on the climate crisis, because all the corrupting money coming from the fossil fuel industry.

KWAME HOLMAN: On that subject, Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico who had first sought the GOP’s nomination, but dropped out of that race early in the primary season, said transparency is key.

GARY JOHNSON: I think that when it comes to political campaign contributions that candidates should have to wear NASCAR-like jackets with patches on the jackets.


KWAME HOLMAN: On the war on drugs, most of the candidates agreed it’s time to legalize marijuana and more.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein:

JILL STEIN, Green Party: Marijuana is a substance that is dangerous because it’s illegal. It’s not illegal on account of it being dangerous, because it’s not dangerous at all.


KWAME HOLMAN: Rocky Anderson echoed that sentiment.

ROCKY ANDERSON: We need to end drug prohibition, just like we ended alcohol prohibition, and treat drug use and abuse as a public health and education issue, and get it entirely out of the criminal justice system.


KWAME HOLMAN: But Virgil Goode disagreed. The former congressman from Virginia was once a Democrat, then a Republican before joining the Constitution Party.

VIRGIL GOODE, Constitution Party: And let’s be clear about my position on this. Unlike Gary, unlike Rocky and unlike Jill, I’m not for legalizing drugs. If you want that, vote for one of them. Don’t vote for me.

KWAME HOLMAN: All of the candidates agreed on another proposition, that the Pentagon’s budget is too big.

JILL STEIN: A foreign policy based on militarism and brute military force and wars for oil is making us less secure, not more secure. We need to cut the budget and bring the troops home.


JILL STEIN: And we need to end the drone wars.

GARY JOHNSON: We shouldn’t bomb Iran. We should get…


GARY JOHNSON: We should end the war in Afghanistan tomorrow, bring the troops home tomorrow.

VIRGIL GOODE: If I’m elected president, I will balance the budget and part of the cuts have to be in the Department of Defense. We cannot do, as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan suggest, increased military funding by $2 trillion over the next decade.

KWAME HOLMAN: To get on the stage last night, the candidates had to be on the ballot in a minimum number of states, or they had to be polling at least 1 percent in any national survey. In the case of Virgil Goode, Republicans tried to keep him off the ballot in Virginia, fearing he might siphon votes from Mitt Romney.

Goode took on both Romney and President Obama on student loans, Pell Grants and rising tuition costs.

VIRGIL GOODE: You might not get what you want to hear from me, but you are going to get straight talk. We can’t afford more federally subsidized student loans, and we can’t afford more Pell Grants.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson argued that the real problem is that the Obama and Romney prescriptions for higher education don’t go far enough.

JILL STEIN: I think it’s time to make public higher education free, as it should be.


ROCKY ANDERSON: We cannot afford not to provide a great education and equality of opportunity for all of our young people in this country.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gary Johnson, however, said the loans and grants are to blame for the rising cost of higher education.

GARY JOHNSON: That is another one of government’s unintended consequences that have college tuition at such a high rate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Recent history suggests the independent standard-bearers can have an effect. In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader took votes from Democrat Al Gore in Florida and other key states.

And in 1992, billionaire Ross Perot captured nearly 19 percent of the total vote in his race with the first George Bush and Bill Clinton. Twenty years later, he’s endorsed Mitt Romney.

GWEN IFILL: You can watch the rest of the third-party candidates’ debate online. That’s in the Rundown.