WASHINGTON - Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan ruled out picking a homosexual or gay rights advocate as a running mate or Cabinet officer, saying Thursday that such sexual orientation is ''a disorder.''
''If someone is an out-of-the-closet homosexual, he's not going to be my running mate, and if someone advocates the homosexual rights agenda publicly they're not going to be in my Cabinet,'' Buchanan said during a lunch with reporters. ''I believe that homosexuality is a disorder. It's a wrong orientation.''
Such remarks about homosexuals combined with Buchanan's effort to force his way into the fall presidential debates are in part aimed at denting Republican George W. Bush's conservative base, which could end up hurting Bush in a close race against Democrat Al Gore.
But the debates also would shed light on the Buchanan he says the public hasn't seen - the one who doesn't ''believe in persecuting anybody'' and would accept gays who live ''a good life.''
''In order to de-demonize yourself for the whole American people, you've got to be seen directly by the American people,'' he said. ''And that's what makes the debates so important.''
Buchanan's comments are consistent with those he made in his past political life as a Republican, and they drew criticism from at least one national Reform Party leader who has tried to get him to emphasize the third-party's tradition of inclusion.
''I think what these comments expose is that Pat Buchanan's hateful and intolerant views are in direct violation of the principles of the Reform Party,'' said National Secretary Jim Mangia, who is gay. ''The Reform Party stands for political, economic, and trade reform and we don't believe in dividing the American people based on social issues.''
Others say Buchanan will be no danger to Bush unless the Republican stumbles.
''Bush needs to keep the right wing of this party happy and voting and turn them out, or Buchanan could become a threat,'' said Gary Copeland, a political scientist at the University of Alabama.
So far, there's no sign Buchanan threatens anyone except the Reform Party, whose upheaval has intensified since he bolted the GOP in October to pursue the Reform presidential nomination.
In an ABC-Washington Post poll in March, Gore and Bush were statistically tied in a three-way hypothetical matchup with Buchanan. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll in late April showed third-party candidates together taking the same percentage from Bush and Gore.
Buchanan was at 4 percent support in both polls. He says his campaign only has a chance of success if the Commission on Presidential Debates admits him to the events in the fall.
But that is unlikely, since the commission's rules aim to include only viable candidates, or those with at least 15 percent support in five national polls.
In 1992, Reform Party founder Ross Perot was admitted to the debates because he was drawing more than 30 percent support in the polls, according to Janet Brown, executive director of the commission. He was excluded in 1996 when polls showed he had no chance of winning.
Facing the same fate, Buchanan has branded that standard a bipartisan conspiracy to keep third parties from becoming threats to Republican and Democratic candidates. He insists the threshold should be lower and says he'll sue, if necessary, to be admitted.
Buchanan is eligible for $12.6 million in federal funding as the Reform nominee.
''If we don't get into the debates, it becomes very very difficult to persuade the American people that it's a three-way race,'' Buchanan said. ''It will be a tremendous blow to the campaign.''
Bush loyalists say Buchanan is flattering himself if he thinks appearing in the debates can save his limping campaign.
''He thinks he has no support because he's not in the debates, but he's not in the debates because he has no support,'' Castellanos added. ''Wet streets don't cause rain.''
On the Net: Buchanan site: http://www.buchananreform.com
Commission on Presidential Debates: http://www.debates.org