Chris Graham: Whither Robert Sarvis and the Virginia Libertarian Party?

OK, so he didn’t get 10 percent, and he surely didn’t win. But Eobert Sarvis held on to most of the support that he was getting in polls taken before the 2013 Virginia governor election.

robert sarvisWhat does this mean for Sarvis and for the Libertarian Party whose banner he carried?

Not much, actually, despite what you’re hearing from the Libertarians.

“A record-breaking number of Virginia voters have sent a message that they prefer the open-minded and open-for-business libertarianism of Robert Sarvis to the crazy social agenda of the Republicans and the crony capitalism of the Democrats,” said Chuck Moulton, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia.

In a word, no. Sarvis didn’t get 6.5 percent of the vote in the three-way race because that many voters preferred the Libertarian Party agenda to that of the Ds or the Rs. Sarvis was a protest vote in an election featuring two largely disliked major-party candidates who couldn’t get out of their own way en route to the trainwreck that Election Day was for both.

This election cycle was built for the Republicans to win, but then they went and nominated the most extreme gubernatorial candidate that either party has put up in the top spot in a generation. Ken Cuccinelli was an accident of history in 2009, riding the considerable coattails of Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling in an attorney general race that absolutely no one paid any attention to, and rode his misuse of state funds suing anybody and everybody who happened to meet his disfavor to become the darling of the hard right flank of the party.

He struggled to gain support in spite of the continued headwind he should have gotten from McDonnell, who despite being tied up in scandal in the final months of his single term in office will leave with an approval rating surpassing that of Tim Kaine and just trailing that of Mark Warner, his two immediate Democratic predecessors.

Meanwhile, Democrats, hamstrung by the statewide GOP sweep in 2009 that left them with no one better to run, went with McAuliffe, who outspent Cuccinelli by $17 million, got the rub from President Barack Obama, former President Bill Xlinton and future President (?) Hillary Clinton, among others, and still managed to win by just two and a half points.

Both candidates couldn’t overcome their negatives – McAuliffe’s image of being the creepily slick car salesman, Cuccinelli’s image of being the batcrap crazy doctrinaire – to a point where only the hardest of hard-core Democrats and Republicans were excited about pushing the button for their preferred candidates.

The rest of us were choosing between the lesser of two evils. Enter Sarvis, who could barely get through the media logjam to get any attention to his campaign, and when he did manage to get some time in the spotlight did little to distinguish himself.

No doubt that he got the votes of dogged Libertarians, but he also picked up more than his fair share of disaffected Democrats, Republicans and independents who couldn’t follow their neighbors into voting for one of the two carnival hucksters.

Moulton said today that the Libertarian Party is “excited to build on this success by expanding its membership and running ever more highly qualified candidates in 2014 and beyond.”

More power to them, but Sarvis isn’t leaving behind anything in terms of a foundation that can be built upon.

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