Virginia Governor's Race: Can Cuccinelli Beat McAuliffe – and What About Libertarian Sarvis?

The Virginia governor’s race is being widely
viewed as a bellwether about…something. It pits the ultimate FOB
(does anyone still remember what that means?) Terry McAuliffe (D)
against the conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), with
a suprisingly popular Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, polling
near on in double digits (read Reason’s
inteview with him

The latest poll
, from Emerson College, has McAuliffe at 42
percent, Cuccinelli at 40 percent, and Sarvis at 13 percent. Not
long ago, McAuliffe was winning in a total rout. Other polls show
the race tightening before the election Tuesday, though nothing as
tight as Emerson’s.
RealClearPolitics’ average
has McAuliffe up by about 8 points
and Sarvis just over 10 percent (important because cracking double
digits would guarantee the LP ballot access through 2016).

Depending on who you ask, it’s about how awful the GOP is
overall and their foolhardiness in shutting down the federal
government (which is hugely important to the Old Dominion’s
economy). Or it’s about just how disastrous the Obamacare debacle
really is, or how inexperienced and dirty McAuliffe really is; how
brave and stand-up Cuccinelli is (he was a leader in bringing legal
action against Obamacare) or how insanely socially conservative he
is; or how reckless the Libertarian Party is (depending on whom you
ask, the LP is either gifting the election to McAuliffe or showing
the deepening appetite for a third-party to the Dems and Reps.

I suspect that there’s a mix of all of the above at play in the
race. But this is certainly worth hammering home: The notion that a
third-party candidate, in this case a Libertarian, in any way,
shape, or form “costs” a Democrat or Republican an election is a
category error.

This type of argument was made most famously to
explain the outcome of the 2000 election, which was supposedly
thrown to George W. Bush by Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. The
methodology to prove this is simple: You take the spread between
the major party players and then see if a third-party candidate
more votes than that, and blame them. Don’t you see that Nader
obviously tossed the election to Bush, because all of Nader’s
voters would have turned out even if he wasn’t running and would
have voted for Gore…?

There’s a basic logic that seems persuasive, but it glosses over
too many things to really be convincing. In the 2000 election, it
skims over the fact that if Al Gore had been a semi-decent
candidate, he should have won in a rout. He was the VP of a flawed
but effective administration that had overseen a massive and
general increase in wealth (even despite the tech bubble bust at
the very end of the 1990s). This was a guy who had various scandals
of his own on top of Bill Clinton’s and then made the bizarre
decision to show up in orange-face for a
presidential debate
 and also vaguely physically threaten
Bush at the end of one too. However close – and ultimately
arbitrary – the final vote tally was, Al Gore lost the election
because he was a rotten candidate that voters (and yes, ultimately
the Supreme Court) rejected.

The whole “third party are spoilers” presupposes that the
two major parties have a prior claim on votes and voters, which is
simply wrong. This sort of logic typically get
trotted out by conservatives
around election time, when they
suddenly realize that small-L libertarians exist and vote on issues
that go beyond patently unconvincing promises to reduce the size,
scope, and spending of government at any given level. Candidates
such as Cuccinelli, who is by all accounts extremely socially
conservative, are a tough sell to libertarian-minded voters
of whom say they identify with the Republican

Which is another way of saying: If GOP candidates aren’t
convincing to libertarians, don’t blame libertarians. Don’t
conservatives believe in personal responsibility? Take a look at
the man in the mirror then. Blame a party that has never lived up
to its limited government rhetoric or its insistence that
government should leave people alone as much as possible (in
Virginia, this meant among other things, having Republican
legislators vote against a plan to get the government out
of the liquor business. Really).

Libertarians are incredibly consistent in what they
believe and getting their vote is pretty easy: All you have to do
is present a credible plan to cut the role of government across the
board. As leading libertarian Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

has concisely put it
, you have to “embrace liberty in both the
economic and personal spheres.” As I noted in a recent column
, this isn’t complicated, but it has often
proved a bridge too far for Republicans. That’s their problem and
it may well spell their doom going forward, as libertarian-minded
voters gain numbers and influence:

If the Republicans can’t figure out a way to accommodate broadly
popular, socially tolerant libertarian policies on gay rights, drug
legalization, and more, they will not just lose the race for the
White House in 2016, but quite possibly their status as a major

More here.

Related and highly relevant: Scott Shackford on
which candidate is “losing”
more votes to Sarvis

from Hit & Run

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