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Online protests seek to include Ron Paul in N.H. debate

ABC News has invited the presidential candidate to a debate Saturday. Bloggers, online activists are irked because Fox News is excluding him from one a day later.

Ron Paul speaks to a rally adjacent to Google's headquarters last year. Declan McCullagh

NASHUA, N.H.--An online protest is growing over presidential candidate Ron Paul's exclusion from a Fox News debate here on Sunday, even though other Republicans receiving fewer votes in Iowa or scoring lower in the polls were invited.

Paul received a fifth-place 10 percent of the GOP vote in Iowa's caucus Thursday, ahead of Rudy Giuliani, who received 3.5 percent. He's also ahead of Fred Thompson in New Hampshire polls, polling 7 percent to Thompson's 2 percent.

But both Giuliani and Thompson still appear to be invited to Sunday evening's debate sponsored by Fox News and the New Hampshire Republican Party. Paul isn't.

That's irked many Paul supporters, who responded by flooding a Fox News Web page on the debate with over 580 comments and creating a "Protest Fox" Web site. It says: "We need to send a message to Fox's Rupert Murdoch & his fellow Neocon buddies that he is not Musharraf and the US is not Pakistan, yet! Fox News cannot just stifle public opinion. debate and impact a primary election by excluding Ron Paul just because they don't like his message of freedom and liberty."

They're also planning protests outside Fox News affiliates. Another likely protest site is Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., which has given Fox News space for a broadcast studio. That's where Sunday's debate will take place.

So why the exclusion? It's hard to say, and Fox News hasn't exactly been forthcoming on this point.

For his part, Paul said he thinks it's because he--alone among Republican candidates--opposes the war in Iraq. After being excluded, Paul explained that he views Fox News as a "propagandist" for the war with editorial views that are hardly in keeping with traditional conservative limited-government principles, according to a story by the Boston Globe.

Adding to the intrigue is that the New Hampshire Republican Party, which is co-sponsoring the debate and presumably has some say in who's invited, published a statement this week saying the media should not be in the "business of excluding serious candidates and talks were continuing with Fox."

And adding to the insult, at least for Paul supporters, is that ABC News is sponsoring a debate at the same place--Saint Anselm College--the evening before. Unlike the Fox News debate on Sunday, however, Ron Paul will be invited to participate.