However current Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and most of the 135 candidates will not qualify for the event.
Only candidates receiving at least 10 percent support in any of three major statewide polls will be invited to participate in the 90-minute moderated “roundtable” discussion at California State University in Sacramento, which is sponsoring the event along with the California Broadcasters Association (CBA).
The CBA, which represents the state’s 962 television and radio stations, said in a statement that officials expect six candidates will make the cut to qualify for the live debate, though the CBA will announce the final selection of candidates Sept. 8.
“Since producing a debate featuring all of the certified candidates is unrealistic, CBA will recommend inviting candidates who have a reasonable chance of winning,” the broadcasters association explained Thursday.
The current front-runners to emerge from a pack of candidates include Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, independent commentator Arianna Huffington and Republican businessman Bill Simon.
Several high-profile, publicity-seekers are also running, including Gary Coleman, former child star of the Different Strokes sitcom; pornographic film actress Mary “Mary Carey” Cook; and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.
“This isn’t just a Hollywood election, a California election, an American election,” CBA President Stan Statham told the Sacramento Bee. “People are looking at this internationally. This election has too much sex appeal to pass up.”
In what it called a unique format for the debate, CBA has welcomed California voters to submit public policy questions, which will be selected and then asked of the candidates during the Sept. 17 debate. The program will likely be available on all of California’s radio and TV stations, and offered in Spanish and with closed captions.
Davis, however, does not qualify for the debate since the governor is not an actual candidate in the recall election. Davis’ name appears only on the first question on the ballot that asks voters whether he should be recalled.
Instead, the CBA offered Davis “the opportunity to appeal to voters and provide his perspective on the recall election” in a separate 30-minute televised program.
Meanwhile, a coalition of civil rights groups and minority-run businesses and media has planned a two-hour debate among the leading contenders for Sept. 9 in Los Angeles. For that debate, sponsors such as New California Media and the Greenlining Institute have invited Bustamante, Huffington, Schwarzenegger, Simon, Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, state Sen. Tom McClintock and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
For those candidates not invited to the televised debates, NBC’s Tonight Show host Jay Leno has welcomed all 135 candidates to appear in the audience over the next month. Leno interviewed Schwarzenegger on Aug. 6, when the Austrian-born actor announced his decision to run in the recall election.
But Schwarzenegger fans are not likely to see any of the action star’s movies — like True Lies or The Terminator — on California television stations until after the Oct. 7 recall vote, because TV broadcasters must provide all political candidates equal air time under federal regulations. However, cable channels can still broadcast the candidates’ films and television shows since the Federal Communications Commission rule does not apply to cable.