WASHINGTON — Just a few days after seeming to agree to appear at a third-party presidential debate, none of the candidates is actually committed to attending the event Sunday at Columbia University in New York.
Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney is a definite "no," saying she'll participate that night in an online debate, appearing remotely via Web cam. The Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin didn't get the invitation until Thursday afternoon, and his campaign manager isn't promising anything. Libertarian Bob Barr was a no-show from the start, saying he had a scheduling conflict, and independent Ralph Nader, the biggest draw, is hedging his bets.
"I'm sure McCain and Obama don't have these problems," said Baldwin campaign manager Gary Odom.
Third parties, though they're full of independent thinkers and out-of-the-box ideas, typically show disarray. And the last-minute Columbia University debate is no exception.
The "live" debate format, formally announced Wednesday, grew out of an online debate promoted by Trevor Lyman, an Internet entrepreneur who pioneered one-day online fundraisers, known as "money bombs," for former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. Third-party advocate Christina Tobin, who coordinates ballot access for Nader but who also has ties to the Libertarian Party, jump-started the idea and in the last week got the Columbia Political Union, a nonpartisan student organization at Columbia University, to sponsor the debate.
Nader, who's been indignant during his three presidential runs about being excluded from the major presidential debates, initially was eager for an alternative debate.
"There's a political bigotry that excludes independents and third-party candidates," he said.
On Tuesday, Nader said he was "optimistic" about being in Sunday's third party debate, but by Thursday afternoon national campaign coordinator Jason Kafoury was noncommittal. "I'm hearing all kinds of conflicting things," he said.
The biggest surprise was McKinney, who told radio host and would-be debate moderator Amy Goodman on Thursday morning during Goodman's "Democracy Now" program that she'd participate in the online debate instead.
Baldwin spokesman Odom wondered, "Is there going to be an event at all?"
Christopher Thrasher, spokesman for the Free and Equal Elections Coalition, Tobin's group and the debate's promoter, is undeterred.
"Amy Goodman is confirmed as moderator and we are expecting confirmation from the Nader and Baldwin campaigns," he said. As for Barr and McKinney, Thrasher hopes they will realize "the historic nature" of the debate and participate.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY