Virginia Libertarian Is Only Gubernatorial Candidate Focused on Issues

Robert Sarvis lags in the polls, but leads on the merits.

According to the conservative Media Research Center’s analysis of this year’s race for governor, coverage of Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli has been “viciously negative,” with 24 critical stories for every uncritical one. Coverage of the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, hasn’t exactly been glowing: By the MRC’s estimate, negative stories about him outnumber positive stories three to one.

But Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, probably would switch places with either of them in a heartbeat. He barely gets mentioned at all – garnering only about 2 percent of all coverage – even though his name will appear on the ballot alongside the other two.

Take a recent piece in Politico. “Terry McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli Tax Plan Sparks Local Revolts” explains how the candidates’ desire to lower or eliminate three unpopular businesses taxes is causing heartburn among local government leaders. It begins by noting that “in one of the nastiest political battles of 2013, there’s one thing Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates agree on.” Sarvis agrees with the other two candidates about those taxes, too. Yet the Politico story never mentions him.

Ditto The Washington Post, which recently editorialized about “Virginia’s Dispiriting Election.” The newspaper thinks it would be “nice if the candidates for governor, who have devoted prodigious amounts of time and energy to tearing each other to pieces, expended equal effort in defining the issues that should matter to Virginians.” Alas, “the two candidates . . . have expended so much time and energy impugning each other’s qualifications that voters would be excused for having no sense of the stakes in the election.” The two candidates? What about the third one, who is running a campaign based on issues rather than attacks? Nary a word.

You could argue there is no point in covering Sarvis because, after all, he has never held elective office. But neither has McAuliffe. You could argue Sarvis scarcely registers in the polls. But that just sets up a vicious circle: Sarvis gets so little coverage because he polls poorly – and he polls poorly because he gets so little coverage.

Besides, in order for Sarvis to poll well, the pollsters actually have to ask about him. But they often don’t. Last month Quinnipiac put McAuliffe ahead of Cuccinelli by six points. The poll omitted Sarvis entirely. The same goes for a Rasmussen poll several days ago, which asked: “If the election for governor of Virginia were held today, would you vote for Republican Ken Cuccinelli or Democrat Terry McAuliffe?” It also asked if the two candidates’ campaigns were positive or negative, and which one of them was the more ethical of the two. And: “Which candidate do you trust more to deal with government spending: Ken Cuccinelli or Terry McAuliffe?”

Rasmussen claims a margin of error of only 3 percentage points. That might be accurate from a methodological standpoint, but it seems hard to swallow in a broader sense when it omits a third option who has garnered from 7 percent to 10 percent in other polls.  Asking people whether they buy Coke or Pepsi is not going to reflect the actual shopping habits of people who buy 7-Up.

The blackout of third-party candidates by pollsters and the media (to which, by the way,  The Times-Dispatch has been an exception) has other consequences as well. For instance, it can keep them out of debates. Sarvis already has been absent from the first gubernatorial debate, held in late July in Hot Springs. He also would have been excluded from a debate hosted by the AARP and the League of Women voters, which set participation at 15 percent. Cuccinelli declined to participate, so that event was canceled.

Later this month the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce will hold another debate. A spokesman says it will exclude Sarvis for “no other reason other than our tradition to provide a forum for the two major party candidates.” That leaves just one last debate, to be held October 24. It will be sponsored by Virginia Tech and WDBJ-7. The threshold for that debate is, or at least was, 10 percent.

Sarvis reached that threshold in late August, in a poll by the Emerson College Polling Society. (If you’re skeptical of Emerson, note that its results are in line with those from the better-known Public Policy Polling, which gave Sarvis 9 percent.) Does this mean he will be invited to the October event? A spokesman for Virginia Tech said the “details of the debate in terms of format, participants, etc.” are in the hands of WDBJ-7’s news director, Kelly Zuber.

Zuber has ignored repeated inquiries.

Others, commendably, have not. Rasmussen says that it is seeing “a shift to a named third-party candidate, in this case Mr. Sarvis, so we will be including his name in our subsequent surveys of this race.”

Perhaps the press could trouble itself to do the same.

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • OldMexican||

    Besides, in order for Sarvis to poll well, the pollsters actually have to ask about him. But they often don't.


    Would anybody blame me for reaching the conclusion that the mayor polling agencies and media outlets don't want ANY libertarian to be in office or spoil the Team Red/Team Blue dichotomy?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Who's paying for the polls? Wouldn't want to piss off their customers.

  • niallt||

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  • Portmanteur||

    There is absolutely nothing in this article that substantiates the headline.

    Ken Cuccinelli has been focused on the issues since the beginning of his campaign, and his comprehensive education plan is just the latest example. This article doesn't even mention specific issues that Sarvis has to differentiate himself from the two major party candidates running.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    There is "absolutely nothing" if you entirely discount the perspective of the electorate and the media. But hey, why bother reading the article?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    For someone who doesn't focus on issue, Cuccinelli seems to have an interested issues page. He talks about rolling back excessive government and promoting school choice. It's not libertarian, but he *is* addressing issues.

    http://www.cuccinelli.com/issues/

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I should say it's not *pure* libertarianism.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Issues page =/= what he brings up for the media to hear.

  • DJF||

    I have heard a couple of interviews of Sarvis on the local media but that is about it.

    Local interviewers seem to be far more professional then the state and national media, the locals just asked questions about policy without putting their own agenda into the mix. No cutting off the answers to throw the interviewee off message, no “when did you stop beating your wife questions”, no political insider opinions.

  • Raston Bot||

    The local govt pants-wetting in reaction to tax cutting is epic:

    the so-called machinery and tool tax or a Business Professional and Occupational License tax known as BPOL — two of the three business taxes on the candidates’ hit lists.

    ...it’s a tax on a company’s gross receipts, not on profit — meaning businesses have to pay taxes on everything they earn, even if they don’t make a profit.

    BPOL raises $30 million in Alexandria, or 19 percent of the city’s budget.

    Without them, “we would have to go ahead and probably increase taxes for our citizens. … The money’s going to have to come from somewhere,” said Martina Alexander, Alexandria’s tax enforcement supervisor.

    Some munis rely on it more than others. Alexandria apparently fucked itself.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Thanks for reminding me to get my absentee ballot.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Not that I think Sarvis will win, but I know a dozen people voting for him who never voted anything but D or R before.

  • ChrisO||

    I'm planning to vote for Sarvis.

    In terms of media coverage, I've only paid attention to the TV ads running in the DC market, most of which are McAuliffe ads attempting a replay of the 2012 "War on Women" stuff against Cuccinelli. There have been a few ads I've seen attacking McAuliffe's shady business dealings, but that's it.

    The reality is that in Virginia, there isn't much support for libertarianism or small-government conservatism. The main industry of Virginia is government.

  • ChrisO||

    I should note that I have no idea whether the balance of ads is different in the other Virginia media markets. I'd presume Cuccinelli would focus more of his budget on the Tidewater area and Roanoke, since so much of the DC suburbs are a lost cause for Republicans.

  • royalphoenix||

    Public schools in this country do a top notch job of indoctrinating Americas youth. Is there any discourse in 10-12th grade on political theory or rhetoric ? Public finance ? of course not. peace

  • Alex the wolf||

    Please, I know GOP candidates sometimes go nuts but stop this ridiculous endorsements of campaigns with no importance at all and focus on opposing socialists aka democrats please.

  • JeremyR||

    One of the reasons the Republican and Democratic party can afford to campaign and buy spots is that they have money behind them.

    By and large, the Libertarian party doesn't. I suppose in part because it's hard to get rich without relying on the government trough. but they aren't going to get coverage for free.

    Hell, there aren't even that many libertarian web sites. You've got this place and...er...uh

  • meta||

    The Libertarian party needs to heavily invest in media and more than likely open up a station/news source for it's fucking obvious they wont get it from the major news outlets. Why they dont I do not know as well as the problems/issues associated with it. But damn they need to really consider this and make the plunge so people get to hear their candidates message.

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