The site of the first presidential debate ahead of the U.S. elections in November.
Security guard Jeffery Sealing walking through the media work center prior to the first presidential debate in October 2012. Photo by AP
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Haaretz
Fringe parties that could sway the U.S. election. Photo by Haaretz

On October 23, the day after the foreign policy debate between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, a Republican, an additional debate between the candidates for the presidency of the United States was held in Chicago. The participants were four candidates from smaller and less well-known parties, none of which has enough support to get into the White House.

"These people deserve a lot of credit," said the moderator of the debate, veteran broadcaster Larry King. "They're the ones coming forward. It's easy to sit back and watch. These people stand up. They may not be counted on November 6, but they're counting today, and they deserve to be heard." The four candidates have divergent worldviews, but throughout the debate they agreed on one thing - the United States needs an alternative to Obama and Romney.

The presidential election is not determined by the popular vote. Instead, there is an Electoral College process whereby the candidate who receives the most votes in a given state wins all its electors. This has led to the establishment of a system of two large parties - Democratic and Republican. representatives of third parties for the most part do not manage to present their candidacy in all the states. However, they are able to bring to the agenda issues the major parties ignore, and are sometimes able to tilt the outcome of an election in states where the race is particularly close. That was the case in 2000, when modest support for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader eroded support for Democrat Al Gore, assuring George W. Bush's victory. In Florida, where Nader won 97,000 votes, Gore lost to Bush by a mere 537 votes, leading some to say that this is what determined the national election.

The best-remembered candidate in recent years who did not belong to either of the big parties was Ross Perot, who ran as an independent in 1992, and managed to win 19 percent of the popular vote - largely because of his money - but not a single elector.

Johnson: Progressive social agenda, spendthrift economic platform

The candidate who is causing the biggest headache for the Republican Party is Libertarian Gary Johnson, who won loud applause at the Chicago debate.

Johnson, 60, served two terms as governor of New Mexico, during the course of which he vetoed 750 pieces of legislation, a national record, and left his state with a surplus of $1 billion. He ran initially in the Republican primaries and participated in two of the party's debates, but moved to the Libertarian Party after failing to garner enough support. Johnson supports cuts in taxes and government expenditures. According to him, "The biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we're bankrupt. He is opposed to American involvement in international conflicts - including the possibility of an attack on Iran - and he has called for the cessation of aid to foreign countries. Johnson promised that if he were elected he would cut military spending by 43 percent.

He is a veteran supporter of the legalization of marijuana, pro-choice with respect to abortions, and in favor of gay marriage (he notes that the issue has to be resolved at the national level and attacked Obama for having passed this question along to the states ). Johnson also attacked the economic program of Romney and his candidate for vice president, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

"When Romney says we need to balance the federal budget but also need to spend money on military and hold Medicare in check, that doesn't add up," he said in an interview to Politico. "You can't balance the budget without cutting both."

A CNN poll at the beginning of October gave Johnson 4 percent support among Americans who are expected to vote - and in some states it was as high as 6 percent. In recent weeks, it has been increasingly suggested that he might cause a "Ralph Nader effect" - especially in Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire.

In poll conducted on October 14 by Suffolk University in New Hampshire, Johnson won 2 percent support - with Romney and Obama each at 47 percent. Another poll by Public Policy Polling in Nevada toward the end of October gave 3 percent to Johnson in that state, where Obama is ahead by 49 percent to Romney's 47 percent. In such a close race, 3 percent could be crucial. And indeed, in Pennsylvania, the Republicans have gone to court with the claim that 40 percent of the signatures he obtained were forged or duplicates.

A press release issued by the Republican Party in Pennsylvania claimed that not only were the Libertarian Party's papers riddled with errors, duplicate signatures and blatant fraud, they raise concerns that President Obama and the Democratic Party are trying to add more candidates to the ballot because they know the vast majority of voters are looking for a new direction."

Ultimately, Johnson is running in every state except Oklahoma and Michigan, where it will nevertheless be possible to vote for him even though his name is not on the ballot, because he submitted his candidacy forms three minutes late.

Stein: End Israeli apartheid; create a green White House, cut defense spending in half

A CNN poll at the beginning of September found that the small party candidates are more damaging to Romney than to Obama. The poll (which was conducted before the presidential debates ) gave Obama 52 percent of the vote and Romney 46 percent if they were the only candidates whose names are on the ballot.

However, when the possibility of voting for Johnson or for Jill Stein's Green Party was added, support for Romney plummeted to 43 percent while Obama lost only 1 percent. Last week, pollster Scott Rasmussen told CNN that if the race is close enough, even 100 votes could be significant. This year, Dr. Jill Stein, a 62-year old Jewish doctor, tops the Green Party ticket, which ran Ralph Nader in 2000. A CNN poll from the beginning of October pegged support for her at 3 percent. Among her supporters are controversial linguist Noam Chomsky, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. Stein will have her name on the ballot in 38 states, and it will be possible to vote for her in nine more.

"We are all realizing that we, the people, have to take charge because the political parties that are serving the top 1 percent are not going to solve the problems that the rest of us face, we need people in Washington who will refuse to be bought by lobbyists and for whom change is not just a slogan," said Stein last year at the press conference launching her campaign.

She and her candidate for vice president were arrested on October 6 outside Hofstra University, where the second debate between Obama and Romney took place, protesting against the absence of small-party candidates from the official debates (as of 2000, only candidates who have more than 15 percent support in national polls are able to participate in debates ). Stein ran against Romney in the race for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. She is calling for implementation of a "green New Deal," a plan that would create 25 million new jobs, along with the establishment of more environmental communities encouraging use of green energy and relying on local organic agriculture. She is also calling for cutting half the military budget and using the money to support free higher education. On her Internet site, Stein writes that the American government must take more meaningful steps to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She proposes conditioning future financial aid to Israel or the Palestinian authority on maintaining human rights, and supports the imposition of sanctions if these are violated. She calls for "an end to the discriminatory apartheid policies within the state of Israel, the removal of the Separation Wall, a ban on assassination, movement toward denuclearization, the release of all political prisoners and journalists from Israeli and Palestinian prisons, disarmament of non-state militias, and recognition of the right of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians." According to her, "In this way, U.S. policy will begin to become consistent with its practices regarding other violators of human rights and international law in the region."

Goode: No campaign contributions above $200; Anderson - opposes the Electoral College

Another candidate who could be damaging to Mitt Romney is Virgil Goode, 66, running on the conservative Constitution Party ticket, who defines himself as a representative of the "ordinary people." He represented the 6th District of Virginia in the Unites States House of Representatives from 1997 to 2009 - first as a Democrat and later as a Republican. He says that Washington is ruled by the elite and big money - and has refused to accept contributions from political action committees or from individuals of more than $200.

Goode's platform includes the immediate balancing of the budget and a total stop to immigration to the United States until such time as unemployment falls below 5 percent. The Republicans' big anxiety is that Goode will affect the results of the elections in his home state of Virginia, where he might win 1 to 2 percent of the votes, while most polls are predicating that the two mainstream candidates are neck in neck or a slight lead for Obama. The Republicans tried to disqualify Goode's candidacy in Virginia, but unsuccessfully. Goode's name will be on the ballot in 26 states and it wil be possible to vote for him in 10 others.

The mayor of Salt Lake City from 2000 to 2008, former Democrat Rocky Anderson, is also running for president on the ticket of the Justice Party he founded a year ago. In the past he was an active human rights lawyer and a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and he is considered a vehement opponent of the American electoral system, which he says leads to too much involvement of economic considerations in Washington. He is calling for universal health insurance and believes that global warming is the greatest danger to humanity. According to Goode, American politicians are avoiding taking action in favor of a transition to green energy because of their indebtedness to the tycoons. "Our government is run by and for the benefit of monstrous corporations rather than in the interests of the people of this country," he said in the Chicago debate. "Obama and Romney have refused to discuss the corrupting influence of money, flowing from Wall Street banks, from the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industries or military contractors because they are the recipients of that corrupting money."

And there are more than 10 other candidates for the presidency from very small parties for whom it will be possible to vote in a few states. The best-known of these candidates is television star Roseanne Barr, who did not get the Green Party nomination she wanted and is running as the nominee of the Peace and Freedom Party. There is also the American Independent Party founded 40 years ago, which is running Thomas Hoefling of Iowa, and there is the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which is running the youngest candidate in the race - 28-year-old Peta Lindsay, who, even if she were to win, would not be able to serve as president because the Constitution of the United States requires a minimum age of 35 for the position.