Any of the three candidates who debated on a UNLV stage Sunday night theoretically could be the next vice president of the United States after the votes are counted on Tuesday.
But even though they are on enough states' ballots to get 270 electoral votes, the men on the bottom of the tickets of the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party and the independent ticket headed by Ralph Nader know they're not in danger of being sent to Washington, D.C.
They do hope to strike a blow for the idea that democracy can be multifaceted rather than binary and pointed out that some of the most basic assumptions underpinning American politics often don't get discussed.
The Democratic and Republican vice presidential nominees, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, were invited but, to nobody's surprise, chose not to participate. "What do they have to fear?" asked Matt Gonzalez, Nader's running mate. "They have to fear that there might be any kind of awakening of political consciousness."
Idealists all, Gonzalez, Libertarian Wayne Allyn Root and the Constitution Party's Darrell Castle argued for ideas like getting rid of federal income taxes and making the government pay for health care. They made their arguments before an audience of about 80 locals, plus a live webcast, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Tam Alumni Center.
The debate was sponsored by Free & Equal Elections, a group that advocates for easier third-party ballot access. All three candidates are on the Nevada ballot. Root lives in Henderson and works as a sports handicapper. The Constitution Party is known in Nevada as the Independent American Party.
Some areas of agreement emerged among the candidates, even though Gonzalez's politics are on the far left of the spectrum and Root and Castle occupy different niches of the far right. All expressed distaste for the level of military spending and military involvement in other countries, especially the Iraq war.
"I think that the global war on terrorism is total nonsense and should be stopped immediately," Castle said.
All objected to the Bush administration's erosion of civil liberties and said the power of the executive branch should be curtailed.
"The government ... thinks they have the right to eavesdrop on my life," Root said. "They don't!"
All were vehemently opposed to the recent $700 billion Wall Street bailout that passed in Congress with the support of both major-party presidential nominees. They pointed to that measure, which remains unpopular among citizens who are not Washington politicians, as an example of why the Democratic and Republican parties can't be trusted to listen to the American people.
"The bailouts represent, to me, the end of the democratic system," Castle said. "It's Congress in your face saying, 'We don't care what you think. You're all idiots. We, the political elite, know what's best for you, so shut up and go back to the plantation.'"
All was not accord and harmony, however. Gonzalez, a San Francisco attorney who lost a close race for mayor as the Green Party candidate, called for curtailing global warming by rejecting drilling for oil offshore or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; nuclear power; and so-called clean coal, which he termed an inaccuracy.
Castle and Root, however, said they didn't think energy independence would be possible without those things. "No matter how much you want to, you simply cannot fly a jet airplane with wind power," said Castle, who is a lawyer in Tennessee.
Root said "radical liberal environmentalists" want to kill American industry, drive up taxes and create paralyzing webs of regulation. "I want clean water, I want clean air, but not at the expense of jobs," he said.
On health care, Gonzalez called for a single-payer system in which private entities would still run hospitals and clinics, but the federal government would pay for everyone's care.
Castle argued that the Constitution doesn't give the government a mandate for involvement in the medical business, and people would be able to either purchase the care they need or rely on charity if there were no federal income tax.
Root proclaimed, "Everything government touches is a disaster," and said the current American health care system may not be great, but it's better than the alternative. "It's not a perfect system, but you know what, marriage isn't perfect either," he said.
Gonzalez noted that the United States ranks last in the World Health Organization's rating of the health-care systems of the industrialized countries despite twice as much government spending on health care than any of the others.
"I think that's embarrassing," he said.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.