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SPOTLIGHT
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Two down, one to go

Published on -10/18/2012, 8:47 AM

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With three weeks left until the general election, Americans do not know who will occupy the White House for the next four years. Unless you fall in the extremely undecided camp, you know who you'd like in the Oval Office. But polling data simply makes the race too close to call nationwide.

The presidential debates are proving useful to most voters, at least for picking winners and losers. GOP candidate Mitt Romney won the first debate handily; Democratic President Barack Obama took the second. That leaves next week's final debate as the rubber match.

The one vice-presidential debate was a lopsided affair, with incumbent Joe Biden overwhelming challenger Paul Ryan. Of course, Biden lost a few style points in the process for over-emoting while Ryan appeared incapable of quenching his thirst.

Every broadcasting station carrying the debates is winning as millions of viewers are tuning in. Gross viewership for the first debate was the highest first round since Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Broadcast and cable outlets drew 67.2 million, according to Nielsen. Throw in online streaming sites and it topped 70 million. Final Nielsen numbers aren't in yet for the second debate, but it likely will top the first.

The second certainly was a hit with social media users. Bluefin Labs, which measures such things, reported 12.24 million comments were generated about the debate on Twitter and Facebook. That made it the top political event ever in social media and placed third among all events, trailing only this year's Grammy Awards and MTV Video Music Awards. "Binders Full of Women" has its own Twitter account already and almost 20 different Facebook pages.

One unexpected winner was Big Bird. Interest in the 6-foot-tall chicken is driving record sales of Halloween costumes.

On the other hand, one unexpected loser was a candidate. Not Obama or Romney, but Jill Stein. She is the Green Party's nominee who is expected to be listed on 85 percent of the ballots nationwide. She didn't get in trouble for her stances, which include tight regulation of Wall Street, an end to all foreign wars and occupations, halting drone strikes, and the elimination of all government-funded construction of fossil fuel-dependent projects.

Stein ran afoul of the law just for showing up at Tuesday night's debate at Hofstra University. After attempting to enter the debate grounds without either an invitation or a ticket, she and vice presidential candidate Cheri Honkala were arrested for "blocking traffic" and disorderly conduct.

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates ruled Stein and all the other minor party candidates did not meet requirements to be included in the prime-time debates. Candidates need to be constitutionally eligible, appear on enough ballots to potentially reach 270 electoral votes, and average at least 15 percent on five selected national polls.

Provided Stein has made bail by next week, she will get her opportunity to debate. She is scheduled to take part in an online event along with the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson, the Constitution Party's Virgil Goode and the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson. Larry King will moderate Tuesday's B-list debate, organized by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation. Neither Romney nor Obama are invited.

Voters who want one more chance to see the top Democrat and Republican square off in one more exchange of talking points can do so at 8 p.m. Central Monday. Bob Schieffer, host of "Face the Nation" on CBS, will moderate the final debate. Obama and Romney are scheduled to discuss foreign policy.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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