In Virginia Governor Race, Third Party Spoiler Threatens

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Rebecca Barnett/The Roanoke Times/AP

Robert Sarvis speaks at the end of the parade at Glen Maury Park during the 43rd annual Buena Vista Labor Day Festival in Buena Vista, Va. on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013.

Does long shot gubernatorial third party candidate Robert Sarvis have a chance to become the next governor of Virginia?  Not likely.  But could he be a spoiler?  The answer is a resounding “Maybe.”

A Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday shows a close race between the two major party candidates with Terry McAuliffe at 44% – 41% for Ken Cuccinelli.  Thirty-seven year old, Libertarian candidate Sarvis, has 7% t of likely voters.  In the past two weeks four different polls have shown him at seven to 10 points, with an average of nine points.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling, says it is difficult to know which of the two candidates might be hurt more by votes for the Libertarian.  Sarvis currently has 14% of the Independent vote, 3% of the GOP vote and 2% of the Democratic.

“Voters are not wild about either man, and that may be one reason why Libertarian Robert Sarvis is running so well,” says Brown. The two major party candidates are failing to generate much enthusiasm or crossover support. Richmond Times editorial writer, Bart Hinkle, wondered earlier this year if the race boils down to a choice between Sauron vs. SpongeBob. “History tells us that third-party candidates tend to experience shrinking support as Election Day nears. If Sarvis does get 7 percent of the actual vote, that would reflect not just his strength, but the weakness of the major party candidates,” said Brown.

But it will be an uphill battle to make his presence known in this nasty and intensely-covered battle.  According to the most recent Finance Reports in mid-August, both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have over a $5 million balance in their campaign war chests.  Sarvis has $19,000.  So far, he has not been in a single debate, although the Richmond Times Dispatch ran an editorial last July saying he has earned the right to participate, and the campaign has been in talks with debate organizers regarding future debates.

According to Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the last time an independent came very close to winning the governorship was in 1973 when the Democrat-turned-Independent Henry Howell lost to Democrat-turned-Republican Mills Godwin by 1.5%.  The circumstances were unusual.  Both candidates had switched parties.  Howell, the former Democrat, got the support of the Virginia Democratic Party but decided to ditch the label lest he be tied to the devastating failure of George McGovern’s presidential race.

When he ran for statewide office in the state Senate race as a Republican in 2011, Sarvis won only 36% of the vote, losing to state Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw.  Now running as a Libertarian, the software engineer, mobile-app developer, math teacher and lawyer holds math degrees from Harvard University, the University of Cambridge in England, a law degree from New York University, and a master’s in economics from George Mason University.

He supports a reduction in the income tax and business taxes, eliminating tax preferences for some industries.  He is in favor of marriage equality for gays and lesbians.  The candidate, who is married to an African-American woman, ran a Web ad appealing to progressives on this issue.  “If it weren’t for the courage of the Lovings [the interracial couple that fought a landmark civil rights case over the legality of their marriage], I might not have been able to marry the woman I love,” he says. “But today Virginia still isn’t for all lovers. That’s why I want to honor the Loving legacy and lead the fight now in this election to recognize same-sex marriage in Virginia.”

He describes himself as moderate on abortion.  He wants to legalize marijuana, decriminalize other drugs, supports drilling for oil off the Virginia coast and privatizing state-owned liquor stores.  He says he is best able to represent the diversity of the state because of the diversity of his own family—a Chinese mother and African-American wife.

Outside of the Howell race and one other involving a divisive battle among Democrats, no third-party candidate has won as much as 3% of the vote.  Sarvis will either repeat history and sink down to 2% to 3% or he will stay close to 10% and make a dent in someone’s campaign.  If he meets the 10% threshold, he not only will influence the outcome of the governor’s race, but would also give Virginia Libertarians a major boost.  By state law, if a third-party candidate reaches 10%, the party gets automatic ballot access for future party candidates, which would make him a hero to the Libertarian movement.

14 comments
FernHenley
FernHenley

When Hiliary kissed the Dem candidate I remembered when she had the nerve to send her emissaries to hospitals around the country to say we need an economy-driven health care delivery system.  HMO's sprouted right and left.  Privatization of health care run by pharmaceutical and insurance corporations left the old Hill-Burton health care act dead.  This redirection has left us counting beans instead of healthy bodies.  The government is broken,  health care system broken, education collapsed, perpetual bail outs, economic injustice reigns.  HR 129 and S 985 ends  bail outs, soon to be bail ins, while a continental water management project called NAWAPA  restores prosperity or else.

EllieNoVATea
EllieNoVATea

Speaking of Ralph Nader, we know Terry McAuliffe tried to bribe him in an effort to improve Al Gore's primary chances, and we know McAuliffe has had 'conversations' with Bill Bolling in an attempt to better his own chances in the gubernatorial contest. Given the content of McAuliffe's character I'd be very interested to know what, if any, contact he's had with the Sarvis campaign. You know, connect the dots. ;-)

BruceP.Majors
BruceP.Majors

Threatens?!? Threatens what? The two corrupt parties the majority of voters keep rejecting even though media like TIME try to shore them up and maintain their duopoly? 40% of Americans refused to vote for Obama or Romney; Obama only got 30% and Romney only 29%.

lporangecounty
lporangecounty

There are many people that want choices outside of the two major parties.  Well a major third party just isn't going to rise up out of nowhere.  You got to either hop on board with the smaller parties and help grow them or stay trapped in the political version of McDonalds vs Burger King.

smithjcn
smithjcn

Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, in their best-selling book 'That Used to Be Us,' had the following to say on the topic of whether a vote for a third-party candidate is a "wasted" vote:  

 
"The failure of challengers to the Democrats and Republicans has become self-fulfilling: Because third parties do not win elections, voters expect them not to win and thus do not vote for them so as not to waste their votes. This calculation, a major reason for the weakness of third parties (and thus the strength of the Republicans and Democrats), can, however, be seriously mistaken. A vote for a third-party presidential candidate can be an effective way to change the direction of American national policy -- AND THAT IS THE STRATEGY WE ARE ADVOCATING. . . . A third party succeeds not by winning elections but by affecting the agenda of the party that does win." (pages 335-336, 'That Used to Be Us,') (Emphasis added.)  
 
Although this was written specifically about presidential races, I believe the same holds true for gubernatorial races as well. Mr. Sarvis potentially could turn Virginia's gubernatorial race into an extremely interesting event having national repercussions.

smithjcn
smithjcn

It is shameful and reprehensible that debate organizers such as the Fairfax County Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting a televised debate on September 25th, for example, have not seen fit to invite participation by all three legitimate gubernatorial candidates. The cause of democracy is not well served by keeping voters in the dark about their options in the voting booth. Let the voters hear about ALL of their options, and then let them decide.

Although few Virginians appear to be aware of it, they have an opportunity to send a wake-up call to both the Democratic and Republican parties that we're sick and tired of their confrontational, mud-slinging business as usual approach to politics. 

paul.naro
paul.naro

Personally, I plan in voting for Rob Sarvis.  I've been following him for quite some time and am totally disgusted with the other runners who are more of the same that have brought our country to the place it is right now.  Now, allow him into a debate with the other two and we'll see who shines.

RichardWinger
RichardWinger

Virginia ought to implement ranked-choice voting, to solve the problem that people are afraid to vote for their favorite candidate.  Australia and Ireland use it.  So do Minneapolis, San Francisco, Cambridge, Oakland, Berkeley and some other cities in the U.S.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

Can you say Ralph Nader boys and girls? (I know it can be argued that Nader didn't cause the defeat, but...)

If he pulls votes from McAuliffe and lets Cucinelli win, he will have a lot to answer for. I don't think a lot of people will be won to the libertarian cause if that happens.

MLonsed1206
MLonsed1206

@EllieNoVATea Good point, but let's not play the "guilty until proven innocent" game because I really feel that Robert Sarvis is a lot more honest and straightforward than his major party opponents. That being said, you're probably an ardent Cuccinelli supporter, right?

BruceP.Majors
BruceP.Majors

Nope. It's time to throw both of your candidates and parties into the dustbin of history. 40% of Americans voted for neither Obama nor Romney but just stayed home. Obama only got 30% of the vote and a Romney only 29%. Your government is an illegitimate autocracy most people ignore. They should instead rise up, seize the "elected" officials and out them in stocks in the public square. And flog them.

klutch
klutch

@Ivy_B The GOP is more worried about Sarvis than the Dems. In theory,  Libertarians are closer to the GOP on many issues, although in practice that's another matter! Right now, you've got quite a few Republicans who are very concerned about Cuccinelli losing to McAuliff. What people MUST realize is that the votes which go to Sarvis are NOT for either McAuliff OR Cuccinelli to have!!! 

sacredh
sacredh

@Ivy_B, just the mention of Ralph Nader and the Green Party makes me want to club baby seals to death.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@MLonsed1206 @EllieNoVATea If you know you do not have a chance whatsoever in winning but only to defeat a candidate closer to you in principle what is so honest and straightforward about that. He is just playing the spoiler. McAuliffe is a dirty fighter and corrupt. Not unless the Republicans play the same hard way they lose. Look at Romney.