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Ralph Nader weighs in on the debate (you know, the one he wasn't invited to)

September 24, 2008 |  7:54 pm

Ralph Nader, while driving this afternoon through the bucolic hills of western Pennsylvania en route to a rally in Pittsburgh, said Friday's presidential debate must go on, despite John McCain's proposal to postpone it to allow time to craft a government bailout for finance firms.

"Sen. John McCain is engaged in showboating," said Nader, an independent presidential candidate who is on the ballot in at least 45 states.

"I think whatever is happening in the massive bailout, in the $700 billion blank check that Bush wants from the Congress, is not dependent on Sen. McCain's returning to Washington. But over 50 million American voters are depending on his showing up on Friday at Ole Miss for the debate."

If McCain demurs, Nader said he would love to fill in for him.

"If he doesn’t reconsider, I would be very happy to take his place in the empty chair on the stage," Nader said. "I'm the No. 3 presidential candidate."

The sunny demeanor belies Nader's heartfelt belief that the meetings between presidential nominees, organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, are controlled by a biased cabal of major media companies and the Democratic and Republican parties. Nader, along with Bob Barr, has not been invited to participate.

The commission "is controlled by our two major competitors who don't want us to compete in front of tens of millions of Americans," Nader said. "Only in America. No other Western nation has such farces."

Nader spoke with The Ticket in advance of a five-day swing through California, starting with a 2 p.m. rally Friday in the Embassy Room of the Davidson Building at USC. From there, he will head to UC San Diego and Encinitas on Saturday, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Sunday, Monterey Peninsula College on Monday and San Francisco State on Tuesday.

Nader said he's visiting California because he expects to draw great support here, and the state is ignored by Barack Obama and McCain, aside from when they are trying to raise money.

"We will spend more time campaigning in California than both McCain and Obama together," Nader said. "Because Obama's going to win California, why bother? Because McCain knows he's going to lose it, why bother? Thirty-four million Californians don’t get the benefit of the two major parties' presidential campaigns. They just go to California to collect money. That’s disrespectful."

-- Seema Mehta