First, a simple fact: Robert Sarvis will not be the next governor of Virginia.
But his candidacy — and more specifically, his poll numbers — have injected a degree of uncertainty into the gubernatorial race. Just enough to make Republicans edgy. Thus we have the completely understandable effort to tell folks that Sarvis is not a “real” libertarian, as Ben Domenech does, at great length, here.
All of this misses the point. There is no ideal libertarian. There never will be. One could look to the LP itself for a model, but that’s a non-starter as the party is famous for its pitched intramural battles over who is a true believer and who is a heretic.
Robert Sarvis’ party bona fides, then, are a sideshow. (he isn’t a follower of Austrian economics! He’s not a Libertarian! Go argue that point with Milton Friedman’s ghost and see how far it gets you).
The real issue is whether he will earn enough votes to win a ballot spot for the LP in future elections. That requires him to reach 10 percent, something a third-party candidate hasn’t done in Virginia since Marshall Coleman’s Senate bid in 1994 against Chuck Robb and Oliver North.
Coleman’s numbers in that race showed him polling far better than Sarvis is in the current contest. And on election day, Coleman’s numbers collapsed. Like Sarvis, his support was soft. For Sarvis to clear the 10 percent hurdle on election day, then, he needs to be polling well above 15 percent today — and no poll shows such level of support.
Seeing the opportunity for ballot status slip away, a group called Purple PAC is spending a good deal of money on ads touting Sarvis. And behind Purple PAC is a name familiar to libertarians everywhere: former Cato Institute president (and my boss a lifetime ago) Ed Crane…
“Both the Republican and Democratic candidates are right about each other,” said Edward H. Crane, president of the Purple PAC. “Ken Cuccinelli is a socially intolerant, hard-right conservative with little respect for civil liberties. Terry McAuliffe is a big government liberal with little respect for economic liberties. Both have been engulfed in scandal. Fortunately, Robert Sarvis offers an alternative, an agenda grounded in free markets and social tolerance.”
The ad buy itself is rather small in the wider scheme of things — $300,000 according to the WaPo. That amounts to little more than noise compared to Terry McAuliffe’s ad buys. But look at the ad spending more closely:
According to VPAP’s tracking, Ken Cuccinelli’s ad spending has evaporated.
Purple PAC’s ads just might be hitting at the right time.
But Virginia’s electoral history tells us it won’t work. Then again, everything else we thought we knew about Virginia’s off-year elections appears to be crumbling this year, so could the third-party jinx end, too?