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Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Richard E. Neustadt
Douglas Dillon Professor
of Government Emeritus

September 17, 1996

Mr. Paul G. Kirk, Jr.
Mr. Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr.
Commission on Presidential Debates
601 13th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Chairman Kirk and Chairman Fahrenkopf:

The Advisory Committee has been asked to review the electoral prospects of minor party candidates in light of the latest available data on the Commission's criteria, and then to judge, by the Commission's standard for admission to its debates, whether each candidate does or does not have a realistic chance of becoming President of the United States next January 20. The chance need not be overwhelming but must be more than theoretical. An affirmative answer to that question is the only basis, under long-established policy, for the Commission to invite him or her to the debates it sponsors. That single standard ("realistic chance") is for the Commission to apply. This Committee merely offers its advisory judgement.

The electoral principal behind the Commission's single standard is, as we understand it, that this Fall's debates, coming at the end of a year-long nomination and election process, should help the voters face the actual choice before them, and therefore ought to be as realistic as possible. Since 1987, you, the Commissioners, have stressed, rightly in our view, that your debates should be confined to the presidential and vice presidential candidates who will be sworn in next January, along with their principal rivals.

"Realistic chance" is meant to focus attention on that real choice.

We began with Mr. Ross Perot, now of the Reform Party. We have reviewed the data your staff has assembled for us, supplemented by telephone inquiries of our own to political scientists and political journalists across the country. We have concluded that, at this stage of the campaign, Mr. Perot has no real chance either of popular election in November or of subsequent election by the House of Representatives, in the event no candidate obtains an Electoral College majority. None of the expert observers we have consulted thinks otherwise. Some point to possibilities of extraordinary events later in the campaign, but grant that those possibilities do not change the likelihoods as of today.

Four years ago, we confronted an unprecedented condition when Mr. Perot rejoined the campaign in October. We were mindful that the previous Spring, before his withdrawal, he had registered approximately 40 percent in the polls, and that upon rejoining the campaign, he could spend unlimited funds on television campaigning. Unable to predict the consequences of this combination, we agreed that he must be presumed to have a remote chance of election, should he do well enough so that no one else won a majority of electoral votes. His chances in the House of Representatives we found incalculable. So, we concluded that his prospect of election was unlikely but not unrealistic.

With the 1992 results and the circumstances of the current campaign before us, including Mr. Perot's funding limited by the acceptance of a federal subsidy, we see no similar circumstances at the present time. Nor do any of the academic or journalistic individuals we have consulted.

Moving on to the other inor party candidates, we find no one with a realistic chance of being elected President this year. Applying the same standard and criteria to them individually as to Mr. Perot, our response is again "no" in each case. The observers we have consulted take the same view. Three of the minor party candidates, in addition to Mr. Perot, do have a theoretical chance of election in November, by virtue of placement on the ballots of enough states to produce an Electoral College majority. We do not, however, see their election as a realistic possibility.

Therefore, the Advisory Committee unanimously concludes at this time that only President Clinton and Senator Dole qualify for admission to CPD's debates. We stand ready to reconvene should present circumstances change.

Sincerely yours,

Richard E. Neustadt
For the Advisory Committee on Candidate Selection

Richard E. Neustadt, Chairman
Diana Prentice Carlin
Dorothy S. Ridings
Kenneth W. Thompson
Eddie N. Williams

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