Sarvis excluded from final debate, and that’s a mistake

Libertarian Robert Sarvis will not be included in the final gubernatorial debate set to take place on October 24th at Virginia Tech. The reason? He fell just short of the 10 percent threshold set by the debate’s organizer, WDBJ TV:

“As of this date, the third-party candidate is polling at 9.0% based on the averages on realclearpolitics.com and would, therefore, not meet the guidelines agreed upon by the campaigns,” emailed Kelly Zuber, the station’s news director.

Thursday was the deadline for deciding who would participate.

A couple of things to consider…

The TV station, as a private entity, can set whatever bar it wishes for participation in the debate. The idea that the goal posts kept moving, as the Sarvis campaign charges, may have some merit. But the bottom line is that the number was set, everyone knew it, and Sarivs didn’t meet it.

That said, not having Sarvis in the debate is a mistake. The Republican talk that Sarvis is a spoiler who only hurts Cuccinelli has some partisan merit. But it ignores history. Virginia voters have tended to ignore third-party challengers and as the Quinnipiac poll showed on Thursday, Sarvis’ support is soft. Nearly a third of those who say they support him today will probably change their minds by election day. If the Cuccinelli campaign fears the untested Sarvis, that speaks more to its own weakness than any strength of Sarvis.

If anything, Cuccinelli should want Sarvis on the stage. It would expose the Libertarian to politics as it is — fast and rough. I doubt Sarvis would shine in such an environment. But we will never know.

Polls have shown for months that voters dislike both major party candidates and the campaigns they have run. Yes Sarvis did not meet the 10 percent threshold. But including him would have served at least one invaluable end: letting voters know not just that an alternative candidate is on the ballot, but what that candidate believes.

They may have liked what Sarvis had to say. Or maybe not. We won’t know.

What we know for certain is that viewers will get is the third installment of a long-running buddy show they have told pollsters they detest.