Seventeen leading Internet sites are joining together to provide the first online presidential debate in history.
The Web White & Blue Rolling Cyber Debate is sponsored by the Markle Foundation, a group that promotes public service communications.
Internet users can submit questions to the presidential candidates by logging on to the Web site at www.webwhiteblue.org until Election Day. The candidate's responses to one question are posted on the Internet each day.
Users also can read daily posts submitted to the site by each campaign through a "Message of the Day." Candidates also can link speeches and articles from their campaigns to the site.
Unlike the bipartisan match-ups sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the online debate features six major presidential candidates. "(The debate) is open to anyone on enough state ballots to theoretically win the election," said Web White & Blue 2000 Editor Peter Orvetti.
Participants include Libertarian candidate Harry Browne, Reform Party candidates Patrick Buchanan and John Hagelin, and Constitution Party candidate Howard Phillips. But Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has yet to participate in the online debate since the site was launched Oct.1.
Stacy Malkim, spokeswoman for the Nader campaign, said Nader has not participated in the online forum because of time constraints. She said Nader wants to engage in face-to-face debates with Gore and Bush. "We really hope that voters will look beyond the narrow focus of the (online) debate," she said.
She said Nader is encouraging voters to visit his Web site, www.votenader.com to learn more about his platform.
Malkim said it is possible that Nader will participate in the program before it concludes on Election Day.
But she said Nader's time is limited because of radio and television appearances, as well as in-person campaigning. "If we had the resources and time availability, we would be participating," she said.
Orvetti said he would like for Nader to take part in the debate.
"We're hopeful that Mr. Nader will participate," he said. "There has been pressure for him to participate."
During the three televised debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, Nader verbally lashed out against the debate commission for excluding him from participating in and attending the debates. Nader filed suit against the commission last week.
Robert Brunner, deputy secretary for the Harry Browne campaign, said Browne is disappointed that Nader has not participated in the program.
"It's interesting that Mr. Nader was so eager to debate Bush and Gore who were 30-plus points ahead of him," Brunner said. "But then Henry Browne is only two points behind and Mr. Nader doesn't seem to want to debate him."
But Brunner said Browne hopes to bring attention to his platform through participating in the program.
Launching a war on drugs and shrinking the size of the federal government are issues Brunner said Browne hopes to address. "Harry wants people to be in control of their lives," he said.
Orvetti said the Web site has received more than 3,000 questions since its launch Oct. 1. He said the questions reflect a variety of issues.
"We are receiving questions on issues raised during the televised debates. Also, we are receiving questions on issues that have not been in the debates," he said.
Some of the issues addressed on the Web site include drug policy, foreign policy, school violence and Napster.
A spokeswoman for Web White & Blue said the debate is being syndicated on the Web White & Blue Network, composed of the 17 largest Internet traffic sites and news organizations.
She said the network will allow Internet users to gain access to the debate through several Web sites, including abcnews.com and msn.com.
"Internet users do not have to come to our site. They can find the debate on abcnews.com, yahoo.com," she said.
Orvetti said the network will help to attract a broad audience. "Eighty-five percent of Internet users will see the debate through sites that they visit daily," he said. "We're trying to set the stage for the next presidential elections."
He said he would like to include debates from congressional and gubernatorial candidates in the future.
Orvetti said Web White & Blue is pleasantly surprised with the enthusiastic response to the online forum. "Our goal was to create a forum to allow candidates to express their views," he said.
"We did not expect this to radically change the debates."
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