Sarvis almost cost McAuliffe the election

Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate for Virginia governor in 2013, almost cost Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe the election. Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign had relentlessly attacked Sarvis during the last three or four weeks leading to November 5, and may have carved off enough Sarvis supporters to give McAuliffe the edge he needed to win.

Sarvis-Nov04-2013Sarvis had 145,560 votes, or 6.6 percent, the best showing by a Libertarian statewide candidate in Virginia history and the best third-party gubernatorial result since Henry Howell ran in 1973, a year without a Democratic nominee. McAuliffe had 48 percent of the vote and Cuccinelli had 45.5 percent, giving the Democrat a margin of victory of 2.5 percent.

According to exit polls, liberal and moderate voters preferred Sarvis by nearly 6 to 1 over conservative voters. Nearly half of Sarvis voters told Quinnipiac that McAuliffe was their second choice.

Dave Weigel noted in Slate:

Sarvis drew 3 percent of Democrats, 4 percent of Republicans, and 15 percent of independents—and Cuccinelli ended up with a plurality of independents after polling behind among them. Inconclusive? OK: Sarvis won 4 percent of “liberals” and 3 percent of “conservatives.” The most Cuccinelli-friendly, reality-based revote, if Sarvis was off the ballot, would have been a 52–48 McAuliffe win.

Writing in The Federalist, Sean Davis concluded:

Sarvis’ presence in the race may actually have helped Cuccinelli. Without Sarvis, McAuliffe’s vote share increases by 4.2 percent, while Cuccinelli’s share only increases by 2.7 percent. On net, McAuliffe’s margin of victory would have increased by nearly 1.6 percent without Sarvis in the race.

The hardball attacks on Sarvis by various Cuccinelli supporters across Virginia — accusing him of being a LINO (“Libertarian in Name Only”) and attributing to Sarvis positions he did not hold, such as supporting Medicaid expansion and attaching GPS devices on cars to track mileage — may actually have led potential Sarvis voters to stay home or vote for their second choice (Terry McAuliffe) rather than to vote for Cuccinelli.

If that’s the case, Cuccinelli’s anti-Sarvis strategy badly backfired. If he had been open to including Sarvis (who was polling anywhere from 8 to 13 percent in October) in the debates, as McAuliffe was, Cuccinelli could have provided an opportunity for Sarvis to highlight his progressive positions supporting gay marriage and legalizing marijuana, drawing even more votes from McAuliffe on Election Day.

Any Republican strategists doing a post mortem on the 2013 governor’s race will have to take this into account.

I will be discussing this topic on television Sunday morning with Coy Barefoot on Inside Charlottesville, which airs at 11:30 a.m. on CBS19 (WCAV-TV), immediately following Face the Nation.

Update: I just came across the cross-tabs for CNN’s exit polls for the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election, which show that more than 71 percent of Sarvis voters would have voted for McAuliffe if Robert Sarvis had not been in the race, compared to about 28 percent voting for Cuccinelli under the same circumstances.

  • Markos_Anderson

    Looking at the same CNN cross-tabs it shows that without Sarvis in the race, McAuliffe wins by a 2% margin (48%-46%).

    Of course, the exit polls are bunk. McAuliffe’s camp even agrees.

    No way the electorate was 20%.

  • Robert Kenyon

    Exit polls are notoriously unreliable. Bush/Gore 2000, anyone? Also consider the LP spent a lot of time trashing Ken. I, for one, have cast my last vote for an LPVA candidate. Done.

    • kpalm

      The Cuccinelli camp spent way more time trashing Sarvis rather than the other way around. The LP didn’t have the media exposure to trash anyone like you’re suggesting, and overall Sarvis ran a far more positive campaign than either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe.

      • joeschmo8675309

        Jarvis was being financed by democrats to thwart Cuccinelli.

        • kpalm

          Really? This again? This has already been addressed time and time again. The money you are referring to was not given directly to Sarvis’ campaign. It was only 11k out of a 150k donation toward general funding to use however the LP saw fit (mostly directed to Texas) and was given long before Sarvis announced his intentions to run. The LPVA didn’t even know if they were going to run a candidate at that point (and hadn’t ran one since 2001). Sarvis put up over 30k of his own money for the campaign, and raised far more than that from everyday supporters. Also, this claim ignores the fact that many donate to more than one campaign or party, and the possibility that someone with democratic ties could be supportive of libertarianism. Many libertarians and democrats can find some common ground on certain social issues (in fact, I used to identify as democrat before I learned about libertarianism). The GOP and its supporters would find it a better use of their time to look for better candidates for upcoming elections instead of trying to make it look like Sarvis’ and/or the LP’s fault that Cuccinelli was such an awful choice. If the GOP keeps putting up socially intolerant fake “liberty” candidates, they will continue to lose while the LP continues to grow.

          • texasgalt

            LOL . . . looking in 2 years later Sarvis dropped to 2%. Negative trend for the Losertarian.

    • Craig M Kilby

      “The LP spent a lot of time trashing Ken”? Really. I missed that one. I saw his ads saying there was a choice besides the crook and the kook, yes, but seriously, where did you come up with this one?

  • Leslie Adams

    and he is a libertarian? he is a left wing nut who should suck eggs

    • kpalm

      Because libertarians can’t be socially liberal? Try again. Libertarians can be either socially liberal or conservative in our personal lives. What makes someone libertarian is keeping the government out of those choices, and not using government force or coercion to advance either ideology.

      • Tommy Valentine

        Libertarianism does not support abortion because liberty without life does not exist. Libertarianism should not support homosexual marriage because it is using the hand of government to force social change down people’s throats. So no, libertarians cannot be socially liberal in the McAuliffe sense of the term.

        • kpalm

          As I said before, it boils down to whether government force is used, regardless of whether someone’s personal beliefs happen to be more liberal or conservative. Are homosexuals not denied the freedom to marry “using the hand of the government”? Government legalization of this would only be a problem if they try to force churches, etc. to marry same sex couples if they do not wish to. Also, society has already shifted toward allowing same sex couples to marry. The government didn’t create this shift and is not forcing it, and I’m not aware of anyone suggesting forcing social conservatives to associate with homosexuals if they do not wish to. Denying them equal freedom simply because I do not have as much freedom as I want (that is, getting government out of marriage all together) would hardly be libertarian. Since the chances of getting government out of marriage are so low currently, it’s more prudent to aim for equal treatment under the law, a libertarian idea in itself, which could later provide an opportunity to get the government out completely in the future. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that any libertarian “supports” abortion as you put it, but rather there is an idea that government involvement does little to help that issue, and instead it creates more problems that are still tragic while driving it underground. Abortions are ultimately a result of larger societal decay that should be addressed in our private lives through social means rather than through government force. This is similar to gun violence, drug abuse, and the days of alcohol prohibition in that regard. Of course many libertarians call themselves either pro choice or pro life and the issue is widely debated among libertarians. Personally I would lean toward pro life despite being socially liberal in almost every other respect, though I don’t think the terms are necessarily helpful when discussing getting the government out of it. Note that libertarians also had little respect for McAuliffe, regardless of his socially liberal posturing. I don’t believe that social and economic liberty are truly separate issues, so McAuliffe’s tactics are far from what I would be suggesting as libertarian.

          • joeschmo8675309


          • kpalm

            Obamacare counts as government force/coercion. Not something a socially liberal libertarian would be on board with. I do not know of a single person that calls themselves libertarian that is okay with Obamacare. Again, personal preference on issues is irrelevant to libertarians. It is about keeping the gov’t out of it.

    • Richard Shipe

      Please, define libertarian.

      While you’re at it, define liberty.

      • Montesquieu

        Liberty, in the Western sense of it, is the absence of coercion within the guardrails of Christian morality.

        • Richard Shipe

          Christian morality and government have nothing to do with the definition of liberty. Liberty is freedom from coercion, which means a truly liberty-based society would seek voluntary interactions as much as possible. Government, whether we need it or not to enforce property rights, is the anti-liberty institution of coercion.

          Your ideal society is more liberty oriented than our current society, but it is not a good example of a society really trying to preserve liberty. The society seeking liberty would look to anarchy, or in other terms a means of living without a coercive institution of violence. (Note: anarchy does not mean lawless or a society purely free of all coercion (even private law enforcers/courts would end up applying some rules to the dismay of some of their customers).)

        • Richard Shipe

          Liberty is freedom from coercion. That doesn’t mean minimized government. Some people believe that government is a necessary evil, but that doesn’t mean the definition of liberty is changed to include government.

          And come on, you know the bit about Christian morality is irrelevant.

  • Ian Da Ous

    Having Marco Rubio support Ken’s campaign was the death of him.

    • Downstater

      Naw, I was pissed at rubio for his immigration stance, but still supported Ken 100%.

  • desertguardsman

    Waaa….waaaa….I decided to cast my vote against a Tea Party Puppet and Clintonista….get over it Republicans. You lost because you pander to the right wing extremists of your party.

    • joeschmo8675309

      So you would rather lose freedom to make a statement? Overall, you lost on every front. Great strategy.

      • desertguardsman

        Rather not have the Republican or Democrat fringe elements tell me how to vote. Freedom of choice.

  • Brad Froman

    Will be interesting to see how libertarians affect the 2014 Virginia U.S. Senate race.

  • Rick Shaftan

    Excellent analysis.

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  • John Longballs

    I voted for Sarvis and would do it again.

  • Charles Reichley

    Actually, it sounds like Ken’s campaign did an excellent job with Sarvis. They managed to get about half the republican vote back from Sarvis, while Sarvis maintained his democrat support.

    • Absolutely right. Polls are not static; Cuccinelli moved them.

  • joeschmo8675309

    Let me get this straight. McAuliffe was the 2nd choice for libertarians? They do know that liberals have turned to socialism right? You can’t possibly want freedom and vote for liberals these days. The only ones voting for liberals (and there is plenty) are the uninformed.

    • Joey Taylor

      McAulliffe wasn’t the 2nd choice of “libertarians”, he was the 2nd choice of those who voted for the libertarian candidate out of disgust with the major party candidates. It wasn’t Sarvis’ positions that made him appealing so much as his “above-the-fray” style.

      • Liberalism is Nonsense

        Certainly the “above the fray” style can be effective for campaigns. Hussein Obama has used it very effectively.

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  • Montesquieu

    Makes sense. Sarvis’s liberal-tarian platform seemed much more appealing to traditional liberals looking for an alternative to McAuliffe’s nonsensical corporatism than to conservatives and Republicans.

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