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Anderson's toe in the door of the debates

Though Democrats occupy the center ring of america's political circus this week, the lights went up briefly on the tightrope walker off to the side -- independent John Anderson. It appears that, if he hangs in there, he would qualify to join the two major party candidates in presidential debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters this fall. Judging by Anderson's past performance , his participation ought to serve the stated educational purposes of the debates. It could prompt an increased airing of issues through his willingness to take political risks on such matters as using tax policy to achieve wage restraint and oil conservation, questioning the MX weapons system, favoring the Equal Rights Amendment, handgun registration, and the "prochoice" position on abortion.

Of course, none of the candidates may be as interested in fostering public education as in gaining vast media attention for political advantage. The league has come up with criteria for inclusion that would open the door previously closed to "third" candidates. They have to demonstrate both a degree of popularity (reaching at least 15 percent on the basis of half a dozen major polls consulted in late August) and a theoretical chance of winning (appearing on the ballot in enough states to get the necessary 270 electoral votes).

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Anderson is the only nonmajor party candidate likely to qualify on both counts -- unles she fails to rally from the weekend's slip below 15 percent for the first time in months. What might hold him back is a public feeling, after his remarks abroad and his minuet with Senator Kennedy, that he may be playing the political game to the disadvantage of the higher-ground impression conveyed earlier on. For him to return to a stance of genuine, I-can-do-no-other independence could enhance his campaign standing as well as the level of the debates.

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