by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ruce Guthrie came to Spokane last week just another guy in a power suit with a list of talk-points in his run for U.S. Senate. In this way he was much like Senator Maria Cantwell, the Democratic incumbent, or GOP challenger Mike McGavick.

Only Guthrie's voice was never heard.

The downtown Rotary Club last week attracted Cantwell and McGavick -- each with a sizable balloon-toting, placard-waving support crew -- to a 30-minute debate last Thursday, one of only two in the state for Senate candidates. Guthrie, traveling with a posse of two and running in the Libertarian Party, was left outside like a kid on the sidewalk with his nose pressed at the window while the big people played indoors.

He was shut out of this debate, then crossed the street only to be shut out of a Spokesman-Review editorial board meeting with Cantwell and McGavick. And Guthrie has been characterized as the candidate who "bought" his way into this week's debate in Seattle.

"They weren't on our radar is the best way to say it," a Spokane Rotary Club official said of not allowing Libertarians into last week's debate.

Guthrie aide Brett Wilhelm says the Libertarians tried in advance to gain a spot. "We exchanged e-mails with the program chair, Tom Stebbins. He was gracious about why they declined."

But Stebbins was also adamant, Guthrie says: "I have a voicemail where he says that frankly they are not interested."

Steve Layman, a Rotarian traveling with Guthrie last week, says, "Part of the Rotary's four-way test is fairness to all."

Fairness and politics often don't mix well, the Rotary's Stebbins says. He says the club will examine its policies governing which parties can participate in debates, but he notes it's not entirely up to the Rotary. "The way the debate works is the incumbent determines the rules," Stebbins says. After months of inquiry from the Rotary, Cantwell's campaign decided only in September to agree to the Spokane debate and held it to 30 minutes, Stebbins says.

At the same time, the incumbent refused KXLY-TV, which traditionally has hosted an in-studio debate of Senate candidates. Chris Cargill, a producer at KXLY, says the station began negotiating with Cantwell's camp last spring. They were finally told the Senator wouldn't decide until after the primary. "Then we find out the week before the primary they've agreed to two debates -- one at KING-5 in Seattle and one at the Rotary," Cargill says.

When they asked about being stiffed, Cargill says Cantwell's campaign staff told KXLY "there must have been a miscommunication." Pluckily, the Spokane station worked with the Rotary to have cameras in place last week, but were frustrated by the format.

"The half-hour format provides time for only five or six questions," Cargill says. Cantwell's people, he adds, refused to extend the time. Stebbins says this is one of the reasons the Rotary Club refused the Libertarians -- adding a third person would make such a short debate even less substantive.

Cargill says his frustrations almost boiled over the night before the debate when Cantwell staffers came to check out the venue and began tinkering with d & eacute;cor and seating arrangements.

"They said they wanted the panel out front so Maria could look the questioner in the eye 'just like at a real debate,'" Cargill says. "I wanted to say that if they wanted it set up as a real debate, they should have agreed to a real debate."

A lawsuit filed by the Libertarian Party kept Guthrie from also being shut out of this week's debate at KING-5 television in Seattle (It will be aired locally on KREM-2 Saturday Oct. 21 at 6:30 pm).

In 2004, KING "said its debate was for major parties only," Guthrie says. The Libertarians rebutted that they qualified for major-party status by winning more than five percent of the vote in 2000 and sued the station.

Even though the Libertarians have since lost major-party status, KING-5 has adopted new criteria. To be included, candidates must raise at least 10 percent of what the winner raised in the previous Senate election.

Harsh math. Sen. Patty Murray's third-quarter finance reports showed $12.1 million to this point in 2004. Guthrie was able to loan himself $1,181,700 by mortgaging his house near Bellingham. He had just enough in donations to meet the $1.21 million cutoff.

This is how he "bought" his way into the debate, Guthrie says. Fellow third-party candidates Aaron Dixon, of the Green Party, and Independent Robin Adair should also be part of the debate, he says. "Their voices should be heard. Money shouldn't have anything to do with it."

"Really, the major-party candidates have nothing to gain by including [minor parties]," Stebbins says. "That's where the push comes from for a 30-minute debate.

"A debate of one hour would give us more flexibility. We want to have a debate, and we want to pull it off, and we don't want to be twinks about it," Stebbins says. "It's just that the incumbent drives the ship."

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