ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A U.S. Senate candidate in Virginia has sued media organizations for the right to take part in a debate scheduled for next month.
Businessman Julien Modica, a Democrat from Reston, wants a federal judge to force the organizers to cancel the event or allow him to field questions alongside former Virginia governors George Allen and Tim Kaine.
The debate is sponsored by the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association and the Virginia Associated Press Managing Editors, a group of top newspaper and television officials from around the state.
Modica is among several candidates who have been excluded for failing to meet one or both criteria set by the organizers by the Wednesday deadline: polling at 15 percent or better, and raising at least one-fifth of the campaign funds raised by the front-runner.
Olympia Meola, an official with the correspondents’ group, declined to comment, as did Anita Kumar, who is a member of both the Virginia APME and the correspondents association and helped organize the debate.
Modica has waged campaigns before in 2008 and 2010, though he has not qualified for inclusion on the ballot. Modica also wants the court to order organizers to reimburse him nearly $133,000, which is what he says he has spent on his campaign so far.
Modica said that excluding him would put him so far back in the polls that his campaign for the June 2012 primary would “become nothing more than an exercise in futility.”
Modica’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, names as defendants the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association, The Associated Press news agency and Bob Lewis, who is the news agency’s statehouse reporter in Richmond and a member of the capitol correspondents’ group. The Associated Press is not itself a debate sponsor.
The 90-minute debate will be part of Associated Press Day at the Capitol, an annual government and political news forum at the state Capitol hosted by the Virginia AP Managing Editors, the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association and the Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Allen and Kaine are the front-runners for retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb’s open seat.
Modica said voters deserve to hear from a broad range of candidates.
Besides Modica, GOP candidates yet to meet debate criteria are tea party leader Jamie Radtke, Hampton Roads minister E.W. Jackson, businessman Tim Donner and lawyer David McCormick. Another Democrat, Courtney Lynch, also wasn’t included.
Radtke’s campaign in September sent an email to supporters urging them to contact debate organizers and protest what it called a mainstream media effort “to shut down conservative Virginians.”
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