Independent for Congress excluded from TV debates, plans protest
The Congressional District 2 race is coming down to the wire, and for independent candidate Abel Collins, who will battle GOP nominee Michael Riley and incumbent Democrat Jim Langevin in November, being excluded from primetime television debates could severely hurt him at the polls.
With the general election less than a month away, Collins said his campaign is in full swing, but a lot of his team’s efforts are focused on getting him into the WPRI Channel 12 and WJAR Channel 10 debates this month.
“I think it’s insulting,” said Collins about his exclusion from WPRI’s debate. He said it goes against the principals of democracy that the country was founded upon.
Collins said his campaign reached out to WPRI many times, and the station would not give him a clear answer as to why he was not invited to participate in the debate they are filming today. Collins said representatives from WPRI told him it was an “editorial decision.” WPRI did not return a call for comment as of press time.
WJAR, on the other hand, has told Collins that if he receives 10 percent in the Brown University poll to be released later this month, he could join Riley and Langevin in their debate.
Collins is confident he will get that 10 percent (factoring in the margin of error), since he received 9 percent support in the recent poll released by WPRI, which had a six-point margin of error and 8 percent undecided. In the same poll, Langevin garnered 52 percent support with Riley earning 29 percent.
Collins calls his exclusion the “chicken and the egg dilemma.” He feels he is being denied the opportunity to debate because he is not well known, yet he cannot become well known without the opportunity to be in the public eye.
“It definitely hurts,” he said. “People put a lot of weight on these debates.”
Earlier this campaign season, roughly 60,000 people tuned into WPRI’s Congressional District 1 primary debate between David Cicilline and challenger Anthony Gemma. It was the number one non-entertainment program in its time slot that evening.
Collins believes his exclusion will hurt him at the polls.
“It’s hugely damaging,” he said.
In order to try to combat his exclusion, Collins said he and his supporters would be protesting outside of the WPRI studios in East Providence on Tuesday, though Collins is not sure of the exact time of the debate’s filming.
In order to increase his presence in the mass media market, Collins aired television ads on CNN and MSNBC earlier this campaign season. So far, Collins said he has spent $14,000 of the roughly $16,000 he has raised. He hopes to raise and spend another $25,000. He said a $50,000 campaign would help make it a more competitive race.
According to campaign finance reports, Riley has spent more than $400,000 and claims to have the largest media buy in Rhode Island Congressional District 2 history. He now has two television and two radio ads in circulation, all of which attack Langevin directly, with no mention of Collins.
In a statement, Riley supported the decision to exclude Collins from the upcoming debates, saying the independent has no chance of winning in November.
“With the economic crisis Rhode Island is facing today, this election is too important to include fringe candidates onto a statewide televised debate,” Riley said. “Fringe candidates with ideas such as workers walking to work from the suburbs as opposed to driving their vehicles. Abel Collins has zero chance of being elected a United States Congressman, his candidacy is acting as a spoiler and until he can garner 25 percent in the polls, he has no business taking airtime from the only two legitimate candidacies in this election.”
Incumbent Jim Langevin, however, supports Collins’ inclusion in the debates.
“In the spirit of democracy, it is his belief that any candidate who appears on the ballot should be invited to all forums and debates,” said Seth Klaiman, Langevin’s campaign manager, in an email.
Collins said he isn’t like the other candidates, and wants the chance to voice his platforms in a public forum. Collins said he is focused on the four main issues: returning the accountability to Wall Street, fair trade over free trade, creating a green works program and getting the money out of politics.
Collins has never run for office before but said he chose to run for Congress his first time out because it was in the House that he could tackle the federal issues that he felt most strongly about.
“Congress is where they’re addressing the issues I care so much about,” he said.
Although he has never held elected office, Collins said earning his political science degree from Brown helped prepare him for the position. Riley is also a newcomer to Congress, having run unsuccessfully for Town Council and State Senate in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
Collins said he felt the “urgent” need to run for office now, even though personally it is not the best time. Still, despite his job and his young family that includes 2-year-old twins, Collins felt the call to run.
Collins believes he could win, especially if he is allowed to partake in the debates.
“I have a chance,” he said. “I have more a of a chance than Riley does.”
To prove to WPRI that he deserves a spot on the debate with Riley and Langevin, Collins has started an online petition accessible through Twitter. As of press time yesterday, 1,059 had signed it. Collins is aiming to get 1,500 signatures.
“I’d like to start something of a movement,” said Collins, whose website bears the slogan, “Elect a public servant, not a party servant.”
The Brown University poll is expected to be released sometime this week. WJAR’s debate will take place Friday, Nov. 2 and WPRI’s debate will air tonight at 7 p.m.
Sign the petition and find out more about Collins by following him on Twitter @ElectAbel, liking “Elect Abel” on Facebook or visiting www.electabel2012.com.