President Jimmy Carter: On John Anderson and Campaign Debates (from Public Papers of the President, Carter, 1980, pages 2272 to 2273)

Q. Mr. President, Senator Anderson has been recognized as a Presidential candidate. Are you perhaps reconsidering a public debate with yourself, Governor Reagan, and Senator Anderson?

THE PRESIDENT. I have repeated today, through a message directly to Governor Reagan, a challenge that he meet me in a debate, under the auspices of the League of Women Voters, at a time or forum that we can work out among ourselves. I have accepted every invitation I have gotten for a two-man debate between me as the Democratic nominee and him as the Republican nominee. He has always refused. I hope now, with just a few weeks left, that he will accept and we can go ahead and have a debate. John Anderson, so far as I know, is a good man. I don't know him very well, but I think he's a good man. He ran for the Senate, I mean for the--you got me talking about the Senate. [Laughter] He ran for President as a Republican. He entered primaries and caucus States all over this country, never won the first primary, never won the first caucus, got beat in his own home State. And only then, after he was defeated in the Republican primary, did he decide to run for President, with no party, as an Independent. I have said before and I believe that John Anderson, as far as a Presidential candidate, is primarily a creation of the press. He doesn't have a mandate from the American people. And I think now, at least from the public opinion polls published, he seems to be sliding down. I see nothing to be served by having a public forum where three candidates are on the stage answering questions for an hour and a half or two hours from the news media. I think it would confuse the issue and unnecessarily boost John Anderson, whom I respect, to the same status as two men who have fought a rough campaign through all the primaries and caucuses and come out with the nominations of our own party. I don't say this knocking him down, but I do believe that the best forum in this last few weeks is between me and Ronald Reagan...

...The League of Women Voters set an arbitrary standard--I never did argue with it--that any candidate to be involved in the debate ought to have at least 15 percent in the public opinion polls. It was an arbitrary standard, but so be it. They were trying to exclude Barry Commoner, who is primarily an environmentalist, and, I think, Mr. Ed Clark, who is a Libertarian. And there are a hundred other candidates, you might be interested to know, in running for President. But they were trying to draw some lines. I don't think any public opinion polls now would show John Anderson to meet the League's standards that they set for themselves. I didn't have anything to do with it...

...So, I think under these circumstances, this last few weeks, the proper debate that would be interesting to the American people is the debate between the two men [p.2273] who have a chance to be elected President and who have gone through the process of a two-party system and been nominated by our parties. So, basically I see no prospect of my debating with John Anderson. I would take any reasonable opportunity, time or place or format to debate Governor Reagan, because I think it would be in the best interest of the people to see the sharp, stark, differences between me and him. Thank you very much, everybody. I've got to go. I've enjoyed it.

(NOTE: The President spoke at 7:01 p.m. at the Lyndhurst Volunteer Fire Department. New Jersey)