- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2015

Long-shot Democratic presidential contender Larry Lessig ended his campaign Monday, blaming party officials for his decision and hinting they manipulated rules for debate access to keep him off the stage — claims party officials deny.

In a statement, Mr. Lessig, a political activist and Harvard law professor, conceded that without access to upcoming Democratic primary debates, there simply is no point in continuing his campaign.

“I cannot ask you to support a campaign for the Democratic nomination that can’t even get before the members of the Democratic Party. And I can’t ask my family or my team to make any further sacrifices for a cause that has no opportunity to earn the support that the nomination will require,” he said. “The uncertainty around my inclusion in the debates has understandably slowed support for the campaign. Without a commitment from the party that I would be included, we cannot afford to continue the campaign.”

Mr. Lessig, 54, was never seen as a viable threat to capture the Democratic nomination, and he remains far behind other candidates, including front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But the Lessig camp argues it was on the verge of a breakthrough. Under Democratic National Committee rules, the campaign says, Mr. Lessig would have qualified for the Nov. 14 primary debate and joined Mrs. Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on stage.

The campaign says the DNC’s debate rules originally indicated that a candidate qualified for debates if he cleared 1 percent in three primary polls in the six weeks prior to the debate.

They say DNC officials have recently amended their rules and now insist that candidates must have hit the 1 percent mark six weeks prior to the debate — an impossibility, the Lessig campaign says, since the candidate was included in virtually no polls six weeks ago.

DNC officials say there has been no change to the debate qualification process, and the flap between the two sides seems to be based on different interpretations of the rules.

“The networks and the DNC agreed on principles at the beginning of the debate cycles to encourage inclusivity, and the networks will set their criteria based on those principles,” a DNC official said. “None of that has changed. Further, CBS hasn’t even announced their criteria for the next debate, and who qualifies isn’t determined until the network does that.”

In a Monday piece for the Huffington Post, Lessig campaign consultant Steve Jarding said he was told by party leaders — including DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz — that a candidate would qualify if he hit 1 percent in at least the polls “in the six weeks” before a debate.

Mr. Lessig has cleared that threshold in several polls in recent weeks.

But Mr. Jarding says DNC officials later clarified that the polls had to have been conducted at least six weeks before the debate, making it impossible for Mr. Lessig to qualify.

Mr. Lessig’s exit, Mr. Jarding argues, is a loss for the party.

“Lessig is a leader in the most important political reform movement within our democracy today — his voice and his cause need to be heard,” he said. “If he were allowed into the Democratic Party debates, I believe Americans would see him, as I do, as a leader who would be true to his word and were Americans to elect him as president of the United States, he would win back our democracy.”

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