- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge could shake up Kentucky’s highly anticipated debate next month between Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

David Patterson, a Harrodsburg police officer and the Libertarian Party’s nominee for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat, has asked a federal judge to order Kentucky Educational Television to include him in the Oct. 13 debate.

Both McConnell and Grimes have agreed to participate in the debate, and it likely will be the only time Kentucky voters get to see the two candidates side by side on statewide television before the Nov. 4 election. Patterson’s inclusion would change the dynamic of the debate, which is important to both major-party candidates just three weeks before the election.

Patterson’s lawsuit is based on a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found public broadcasters could exclude candidates from televised debates based on the candidates’ level of support. But the court ruled public broadcasters could not exclude candidates because they “oppose the speaker’s view.”

Through his attorneys, Patterson said KET excluded him because of his views when it changed its criteria covering who could qualify to appear in its debate. Patterson said he met the original criteria, but did not meet the new criteria established last summer because he was not polling at 15 percent and had not raised at least $100,000.

He pointed to a series of emails from KET officials as proof of their intent to exclude him, including one from KET’s Director of Production Operations Mike Brower who wrote KET staff was “most concerned” about changing the criteria so that “this will eliminate the write in and other candidate from the forum.”

Robert Edward Ransdell, who is campaigning as a white supremacist, has been certified as a write in candidate.

Patterson said KET changed the criteria without telling the candidates.

“If Patterson knew he needed to raise $100,000 to participate, he probably would have done it. He could have done it,” said Chris Wiest, one of Patterson’s attorneys.

KET spokesman Tim Bischoff declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, citing KET policy. But Bischoff told the Associated Press earlier this month that KET officials refined the criteria for participating in the debates after consulting with their attorney and said “KET has the right within the law to do that.”

“We reject any notion that the criteria were developed or modified to include or exclude any candidate,” Bischoff said at the time.

The McConnell and Grimes campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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