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Debate commission members say no break for Johnson

Two key members of the presidential debate commission offered little hope Wednesday for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson to join those events.

Both commission members said it was unlikely they would waive the requirement that candidates must demonstrate at least 15 percent support in major public polls before being invited on the stage.

Former White House Spokesman Mike McCurry, co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told an audience in downtown Washington there is no choice but to exclude some candidates from the forums.

The CPD has overseen every presidential debate since 1988; McCurry and Daniels were speaking at a first-ever Presidential Lecture Series hosted in Washington by Purdue University. Daniels took over the presidency of Purdue in 2013, after two terms as governor of the Hoosier State, and was succeeded by current Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence.

Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, has attracted an unusual amount of attention during this presidential election cycle, partly because of the high negative approval ratings of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. But he has struggled to poll above 10 percent in major surveys, and is currently hovering around 9 percent, according to the most recent averages as compiled by Real Clear Politics – well below the 15-percent threshold.

The first debate is on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York.

McCurry told AMI Newswire that Johnson still has time, but not much, because the commission won’t apply the 15-percent criteria until later in the month, closer to the debate date. But he said exceptions from that percentage requirement won’t be allowed.

“He can still hit the 15 percent by the time of the first debate – it’s conceivable,” McCurry said. “But we have to establish criteria, and we have to stick to it. We said 15 percent would be the number a year ago. Some people thought it was too low or too high, but it was well-known.”

One of Johnson’s more prominent supporters came forward this week – 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who tweeted that he hoped Johnson would be allowed to debate. Romney famously ripped Trump in a speech last year, calling him unfit for the Oval Office.

At one point during Wednesday’s lecture, McCurry flipped the table on Daniels and asked the former governor if he regretted passing up a presidential run this year, especially given the spectacular nature of the campaign. He said the toll on his family’s privacy would not have been worth it.

“There are five women in my family, and I always say the women’s caucus has veto power, and there’s no override,” Daniels said. “Being governor is one thing – they could basically live their lives as they wanted. But this is just a different order.”

Much of the evening consisted of McCurry and Daniels lamenting the hyper-polarized state of today’s electorate, and Daniels at one point said the Republican Party may cease to exist in the future, pointing to now-defunct parties such as the Whigs.

“It’s not hard to imagine the GOP fracturing,” he said. “Parties don’t always last forever.”

Afterwards, Daniels backtracked somewhat from that prediction in an interview with AMI.

“The people in the party may go their separate ways, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “What’s going on now in the Republican Party is a long way between some members of the party disappointed or disaffected with an election, and having some kind of structural change.”