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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Independent Senate candidate sues to be in debates

Steven Machat of Miami is a no-party-affiliation candidate for U.S. Senate.

Provided by the Machat campaign

Steven Machat of Miami is a no-party-affiliation candidate for U.S. Senate.



An independent candidate for U.S. Senate on Thursday sued news organizations and the Federal Communications Commission, demanding he be allowed to participate in two debates.

It's a longshot bid for Steven Machat, a no-party-affiliation (NPA) candidate who lives in Miami and has raised just $25,000 in a multi-million-dollar Senate race. But, he says, organizers have unfairly blocked him and other NPA candidates from participating in debates between Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat.

"We live in a country that's become a two-headed, one-party system," Machat said. "My campaign could go viral in a minute."

Machat's argument in the lawsuit is this: As a "proper" candidate whose name will appear on the ballot statewide, he "has every right to be heard and debate the issues with the other candidates." What's more, he says, voters who identify as independents are a growing group of voters.

He wants a federal judge in Florida's Southern District to issue an injunction blocking any debates that don't include Machat and other NPA candidates. Machat said he tried Thursday to go in and talk to the judge he's been assigned, Ursula Ungaro.

In all, seven candidates will be on the ballot: Rubio, Murphy, Libertarian Paul Stanton and NPA candidates Machat, Basil DalackTony Khoury and Bruce Nathan. To qualify for the election, they had to pay a filing fee of nearly $7,000.

But debates are not functions of the government. They are organized between the major candidates and hosted by Leadership Florida and news organizations like Cox Media Group and Politico Florida. Just two are on the calendar: One on Oct. 17 and another on Oct. 26. 

Traditionally, they are limited to major candidates who appear likely to come within striking distance of winning the election -- usually the two major parties. Debate organizers look to metrics like poll performance and fundraising to determine who ought to be invited to a debate.

Machat has not been included in major polls. And his campaign, which launched in June, more than a year after Murphy's and a host of Republicans who ducked out to clear the way for Rubio, has raised just $25,943, with $8,000 of it coming from Machat himself.

Rubio and Murphy have been unable to agree on additional debates, and Murphy's campaign has rejected two proposed by the Times and the Herald.

But Machat says the airwaves belong to the people, not to the two major parties, "which own the media."

"People need to hear the message," he said.

Military and overseas ballots for the Nov. 8 election were sent out last week. Vote-by-mail ballots must be sent by Monday.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2016 12:35pm]


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