Story by Chris Graham
Independent Russ Potts may have only one chance left to qualify for an Oct. 9 televised gubernatorial-candidate debate.
Three organizations – Mason-Dixon, Rasmussen Reports and The Washington Post – have been regularly polling Virginia voters as to their preferences for governor in the 2005 elections. Only one of those three, the Ocean Grove, N.J.,-based Rasmussen Reports, is definitely coming out with survey results before the Oct. 6 cutoff for determing if Potts has reached the 15 percent voter-support threshold needed to secure inclusion in the Richmond debate, which will be broadcast statewide.
Those results, a Rasmussen Reports spokesman told The Augusta Free Press, are scheduled to be released later today.
A Post spokesperson told the AFP that the paper has a policy against revealing its polling schedule in advance of release.
Brad Coker, managing director of the Washington-based Mason-Dixon, told the AFP that his organization is not planning to conduct any surveys in Virginia until after the gubernatorial debate.
That plan could change, though, Coker said, if another poll released in the coming days showing Potts at the 15 percent support threshold set by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, which is cosponsoring next weekend’s debate with WWBT-NBC12 in Richmond, and agreed to by the campaigns of Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore.
“Because of the requirement in the debate rules that Potts have 15 percent in two separate polls, there has been talk about doing something to get another set of numbers out there for comparison. But the final decision on that is made by a majority of the editors of the papers that commission us to do the polls,” Coker said.
What that means is that Potts’ showing in today’s Rasmussen poll could determine whether or not he gets into the debate.
“I question the threshold. Who is Larry Sabato to set some threshold? Who is he to determine some 15 percent threshold?” said Potts, expressing his frustration at the rules for the debate.
Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics. The UVa. professor will serve as the moderator for the candidate debate.
“There was one threshold, and that was to get on the ballot. And we’re on the ballot. And if you’re on the ballot, you ought to be in the debate. Case closed,” Potts told the AFP.
Coker, for his part, said he personally thinks the 15 percent threshold set for inclusion in the debate is “too high.”
“We work with debate organizers across the country, and I don’t recall even seeing one that set the threshold for inclusion into a general-election debate at 15 percent,” Coker said.
The norm, Coker said, is usually 5 percent or 10 percent.
“It varies from state to state. But in states where there are organized third parties, such as Greens or Libertarians, that are regularly on the ballot for state elections, a 5 percent threshold can be a substantial barrier that can keep a third-party candidate off a ballot,” Coker said.
“Some debates go with 10 percent as the cutoff, and if that was the case with this debate in Virginia, Potts could be close, because our last polling had him at 5 percent, but that was before he went on the air to kick off his media campaign,” Coker said.