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Libertarians Declare War On WDIV

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Posted: September 19, 2018 3:59 PM

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Bill Gelineau is rallying the troops for an all-out assault on WDIV-Detroit for the format of its upcoming governor's debate.

Mr. Gelineau is not calling for violence, rather for a steady barrage of calls and emails to convince the station to give him a seat at its October 24 debate broadcast.

At the heart of the battle is the definition of a minor party.

Technically, Mr. Gelineau's party is no longer minor. The Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, collected enough votes to put the party on the primary ballot for this year.

Mr. Gelineau was not only the first Libertarian but the first person not an R or a D to win a top-ticket primary in the state in modern times. The Reform Party was the only other minor party to qualify for primary access, in 2000, but it imploded before its chosen candidate (President Donald Trump was the only candidate on the Michigan 2000 Reform ballot but competing factions submitted Pat Buchanan and John Hagelin as the party nominee so then Secretary of State Candice Miller rejected both) could be placed on the general election ballot.

If the election law's definition of a major party is definitive in determining eligibility for debates, then Mr. Gelineau certainly should be on that stage.

The station, though, adopts the rules of many candidate debates that have come before, giving a seat only to those with some real chance of success in November.

WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, hosting the other planned debate, will also feature only Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer but Mr. Gelineau has given the station a pass because it did broadcast a debate between him and primary opponent John Tatar.

On the score of ability to compete in the election, Mr. Gelineau's argument for a seat is more tenuous.

To get that primary ballot access, Mr. Johnson collected only 3.6 percent of the vote, earning him third place but leaving no argument he was outside striking distance of the top two. While it is less comparable, Mr. Gelineau and Mr. Tatar together took 0.33 percent of the votes cast in the August primary.

Conventional wisdom says Mr. Gelineau will at best hold that position and, without the many oddities that surrounded the 2016 presidential election, will likely fall back to the near 1 percent Libertarians have traditionally garnered when they had top ticket candidates.

Mr. Gelineau is stuck in a Catch 22: without the funds to reach the public, he does not have the recognition to get into the debates and, without the attention the debates and other such events bring, he cannot raise the funds to compete at the top of the race.

As Mr. Gelineau notes in his missive to the party faithful, he has been able to reach out to more media this cycle than the party has in the past. Yet to be seen is whether that still minor coverage compared to what Mr. Schuette and Ms. Whitmer receive is enough to move the party up another notch in the major/minor party scale.

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