Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is getting his wish. He will participate in a nationally televised debate just before the general election. But his rivals won't be named Barack and Mitt. Instead, they will be Jill, Virgil, and Rocky. All of them are third-party or independent candidates.
The session will be moderated by former TV talk-show host Larry King and it's scheduled for Tuesday in Chicago.
For weeks, Johnson's campaign has been eyed warily by the major parties, especially by Republicans nervous that he could draw votes from Republican nominee Mitt Romney and throw a battleground state or two to President Obama, possibly costing Romney the White House.
Adding to the GOP concerns is the theory that Johnson could attract many of the die-hard supporters of libertarian Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination this year and mobilized some of the most passionate activists of any campaign.
Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, is on the ballot in 48 states and Washington, D.C.
The other candidates in the Chicago debate Tuesday, sponsored by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, are the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson, the Constitution Party's Virgil Goode, and the Green Party's Jill Stein, according to a foundation spokesman.
In contrast, the far better known Commission on Presidential Debates decided to include only Obama and Romney in its three debates, prompting an outpouring of criticism from folks who wanted move inclusiveness.
"The previous debates between President Obama and Governor Romney have failed to address the issues that really concern everyday Americans," said Christina Tobin, founder and chairwoman of the Free and Equal Elections Foundation. "From foreign policy, to the economy, to taboo subjects like our diminishing civil liberties and the drug war, Americans deserve a real debate, real solutions, and real electoral options."
Johnson criticized this week's major-party debate as "dueling Phil Donahue acts carping at one another over who is worse. I defy anyone who watched the debate to identify a plan from either the Republican or Democrat that will achieve a balanced budget. ... We need a fundamental reduction in the role and cost of government, and both Romney and Obama are fundamentally big-government guys."
The third-party debate will be broadcast live by Ora TV, a digital programming service, according to the foundation.
Some third-party 2012 candidates have appeared together before, but they are counting on the Larry King-moderated encounter to attract more attention.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.