Potts files suit to get into debate

Story by Chris Graham

Russ Potts has filed suit against the University of Virginia Center for Politics seeking a spot in the televised gubernatorial-candidates debate being sponsored by the center and WWBT-NBC12 in Richmond this weekend.

A hearing on Potts’ suit has been scheduled for noon today in a federal court in Charlottesville. Potts, an independent, is seeking an injunction that would either give him a spot in the debate, which is being televised statewide, or postpone the debate until he can present legal arguments about why he should be allowed to participate.

Rules for the debate agreed to by the campaigns of Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine would have given Potts a seat in the debate as long as he registered at least 15 percent voter support in two public-opinion surveys.

The most recent polling done in the Virginia gubernatorial race, compiled last week by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen, had Potts’ support at 5 percent of voters in the Old Dominion.

“We’re going after Larry Sabato and the Center for Politics. Our First Amendment rights have been infringed upon. Also, we’ve been discriminated against. There is no such things as a 15 percent threshold. Sabato and Kilgore created a 15 percent threshold,” Potts told The Augusta Free Press late Thursday.

Kilgore responded to the news that Potts was filing suit at a news conference in Weyers Cave Thursday morning.

“You’ve got to be a serious candidate to get into the debates,” Kilgore told reporters. “I’m looking forward to the debate on Sunday night. I agreed to the standards set by Larry Sabato that said that if you’re not polling 15 percent, you’re not a serious candidate.”

Kilgore was later asked if he is planning to be prepared to debate Potts in front of the statewide television audience this weekend – in the event that a Potts lawsuit would be successful in adding his name to the list of participants.

“I’m debating Tim Kaine on Sunday night. I’m debating the only other candidate that has a slight chance of winning the race,” Kilgore said.

Potts pointed out that similar standards have not been held over the heads of potential candidates in Virginia elections – citing the 1994 Senate race that featured Democrat Chuck Robb, Republican Oliver North and independents Marshall Coleman and Doug Wilder.

“Doug Wilder and Marshall Coleman participated, and there wasn’t any 15 percent threshold,” Potts said.

“Any Virginian that reads this story tomorrow, the first word that’s going to come to their mind is fairness. They’re going to say, ‘I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him for fighting for his principles and his right to participate. He earned his way in.’ And I did earn my way in,” Potts said.

“We passed the one threshold. We’re on the ballot. There are three candidates running for governor. And Sabato and Kilgore have conspired to keep me out of the debate,” Potts said.

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