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Independents decry exclusion from debate

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Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012 11:01 pm | Updated: 4:03 pm, Tue Jan 22, 2013.

Two independent congressional candidates are crying foul after not receiving invites to two upcoming debates in the race for Virginia’s 5th District.

Though they won’t be the only names on the ballot in November, Rep. Robert Hurt and Democratic challenger John Douglass will be the only congressional candidates on stage this week during the first debate.

Independents Kenneth J. Hildebrandt and Ben Hudson were not invited to take part in Wednesday’s debate in Danville, which has caused both independents to complain about being blocked from full participation in the democratic process.

Though debate watchers won’t be hearing from the independents, they’ll get to see a one-on-one matchup between Hurt, R-Chatham, and Douglass, a retired brigadier general from Fauquier County.

“We invited the two major party candidates and any other who could show 10 percent support in independent polls,” explained Bob Gibson, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

Requiring candidates to demonstrate a certain level of support is a fairly standard practice when it comes to debates. But some see that as a problematic measuring stick in the 5th District, where no independent poll numbers have been released.

“What kind of nonsense is that?” said Hildebrandt, a Halifax County resident who will be the only independent on the ballot. “… This is not a joke. And the founders would be doing rotisseries.”

Hildebrandt, a self-described “independent web journalist” running a campaign focused on industrial hemp, has qualified for the ballot as a representative of the Independent Green party.

Hemp could be the “economic shot in the arm” the country needs, Hildebrandt said, but neither Hurt nor Douglass will talk about it.

“They’re two peas in a pod really,” Hildebrandt said of the frontrunners.

Though Hildebrandt is on firmer footing because he earned a spot on the ballot, Hudson is also trying to get a debate invite.

A retired U.S. Army officer from Fluvanna County, Hudson is running as a write-in candidate after failing to submit the 1,000 petition signatures required to get on the ballot.

“My being shut out of the debates would be a blatant disservice to the citizens of the 5th District as the voters would not get the chance to observe all the candidates in a debate setting,” Hudson said in a statement emailed to media outlets last week. “This is not fair to Virginia voters. Let the voters decide.”

Both the Hurt and Douglass campaigns deferred questions about whether independents should be included, saying it’s up to the debate hosts to determine the criteria.

The Danville debate is sponsored by the Sorensen Institute, the Danville Register & Bee, Charlottesville’s NBC29 and Lynchburg’s WSET-TV.

Gibson, who will serve as the moderator, said all the sponsors agreed on the candidate criteria.

The two TV stations will broadcast the debate live starting at 7 p.m.

Hurt and Douglass have agreed to a second debate that will take place Oct. 15 in Warrenton, which was recently added to the district.

No independents are scheduled to participate in that event either, according to the Greater Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting the debate along with the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce.