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Liberals call for president to take part in policy debate

Liberal activists and academics displeased with the Obama administration's handling of several issues popular with progressives say they are seeking candidates who would be willing to debate President Obama next year as he seeks his party's nomination for re-election.

The group, led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and scholar Cornel West, said it faults Obama for the escalation of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for extending tax cuts enacted by George W. Bush and for his actions during the recent debt ceiling negotiations.

The group said Saturday it is seeking six "recognizable, articulate" candidates who would not mount serious challenges to Obama, but "rigorously debate his policy stands" on issues related to labor, poverty, foreign policy, civil rights and consumer protections.

Fewer than three-quarters of Democrats approve of Obama's job performance, and less than a third believe the nation is headed in the right direction, according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nader said Saturday it is "very unlikely" he would challenge Obama and that he is gauging the interest of former lawmakers and governors, academics, authors and labor leaders.

"I just want all these liberal, progressive agendas to be robustly debated. Otherwise, there will be a de facto blackout of their discussion" during next year's campaign, Nader said.

The longtime consumer advocate's involvement may revive accusations that his third-party presidential candidacy upended Al Gore's chances of winning the 2000 presidential contest.

West's involvement is notable, because he has repeatedly criticized and questioned Obama's liberal bona fides, and he faults the president for failing to properly address the growing economic plight of African-Americans.

In other political developments:

*Republican presidential contender Jon Huntsman Jr. questioned the electability of the two front-runners for his party's nomination, saying some of Rick Perry's views are out of the mainstream and Mitt Romney lacks foreign policy experience.

Huntsman predicted he could win in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary election, even as the latest polling shows minimal support for him among Republicans.

"Some people have been at zero today, and they've gone on to win the New Hampshire primary," he said on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital With Al Hunt" airing this weekend.

*In her first appearance on "The Tonight Show," Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota tried Friday night to show her lighter side, but Jay Leno challenged her on several issues, including gay marriage.

" it sounds like if two gay people want to get married, that's their business; that doesn't concern us," said Leno. "I mean, why is that even an issue?"

"Well, because the family is foundational," Bachmann said, "and marriage between a man and a woman has been what the law has been for years and years."