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Buckley explained that he wanted a referendum on Social Security with the voters deciding whether to raise FICA taxes or not. Was it a dodge? Arguably, but that just laid the tracks for moderators to ask Chambliss about his support for the Fair Tax, the theoretical sales tax that would replace the income tax. "He's using all of you Fair Tax zealots because he's lost you on the real issues," Buckley said. "When the Republicans ran everything, he could have introduced a Fair Tax bill. Why didn't he, if he's such a good leader?"
Buckley closed his remarks with attacks on both candidates. Martin was a "good man" who wouldn't make a great senator, while "Saxby Chambliss is not, and never will be a great senator." He asked for people to support him, which would set up a runoff. And with that, he closed his final debate.
Local news reporters swarmed Buckley, Chambliss, and Martin after the lights dimmed. Before and after the debate, Buckley declined to say who he'd support in a runoff. (Given the chance to imagine actually winning, he called it a theoretical "gunshot heard around the world that would represent real change, not Obama change.")
"Alan was really good tonight," said Jim Martin as he spotted Georgia Libertarian Party Chair Daniel Adams. Buckley returned the favor. "Jim's a pleasant guy." He did not have similarly kind words for Chambliss.
An hour later, Adams joined a number of LP activists at a house they've subletted to the Bob Barr campaign's surplus staff. Fox 5 led its broadcast with Buckley calling Chambliss a "liar." But other than that, the third-party candidate barely made it into the final report. Editors included Chambliss' "pill" insult, but cut the Buckley comeback.
It was telling. If he forces a runoff, Buckley will become one of the pivotal politicians of election 2008. Close races are the surest way of drawing attention to Libertarians. Earlier that day, Bob Barr had noted that his uptick in local media coverage came as polls showed McCain's lead over Obama collapsing. There was a spoiler story to write again! But for one more election, despite the issues, despite the debate, that's the only story the rest of the media will write about Buckley.
David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.