Gizzi on Politics: GOP Blames Libertarian for Cuccinelli Loss in Va.

Thursday, 07 Nov 2013 03:59 PM

By John Gizzi

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More than a few Republicans are pointing fingers at Libertarian Robert Sarvis' showing in Virginia's gubernatorial race as the reason Republican Ken Cuccinelli fell short of victory Tuesday.

With Democrat Terry McAuliffe winning a closer-than-expected race by 48 percent to 45.5 percent over Cuccinelli, Republicans says that Sarvis' 6.8 percent made the difference.

"The Libertarian candidate was probably a pivotal factor in Ken Cuccinelli losing to Terry McAuliffe," Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell told Newsmax Wednesday. "We've recently learned in the last few days that a left-wing billionaire poured a substantial amount of money into Sarvis' coffers."

Blackwell was referring to Texas software billionaire and Obama fundraiser Joe Liemandt, who donated $150,000 to the Texas-based Libertarian Booster Political Action Committee that helped secure a ballot position for Sarvis.

"Clearly, he donated this amount of money because he believed Sarvis was going to help McAuliffe," said Blackwell.

Supporters of Sarvis, a lawyer and high-tech entrepreneur who ran for the state Senate in Northern Virginia as a Republican two years ago, have long insisted that their man would draw from both major party candidates. His stands in favor of marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage would not exactly appeal to those who normally vote Republican, they argued.

But historically, by just appearing on the ballot line of the party so identified with small government, Libertarian candidates have drawn votes that would normally go to Republicans.

On the day of the election, veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake seconded that view and noted that the trend of Republicans breaking away from their party's candidate to support Libertarians "has been growing in the West and it was certainly tried and true in my home state of Montana."

She noted that in the U.S. Senate race last year, the Libertarian drew a greater share of the vote than Democrat Jon Tester's margin of victory over Republican Denny Rehberg. The same was true last year in Indiana's Senate race, where the Libertarian drew a larger share than Democrat Joe Donnelly's plurality over Republican Richard Mourdock.

"So I am hopeful for the Libertarian to do well tomorrow," Democrat Lake added, with a chuckle.

Having fallen behind McAuliffe in numerous polls during October, Cuccinelli did develop strong last-minute momentum in the twilight of the campaign. According to veteran Virginia GOP consultant J.T. Parmalee, this was fueled by voter anger over the rollout of Obamacare and McAuliffe talking about gun control.

"When Ken said the race was a 'referendum on Obamacare,' it was at the same time as the rollout and all the complaining," Parmalee told Newsmax, adding that a Fox News poll showed Virginia voters opposing Obamacare by a margin of 53 percent to 45 percent.

"And when McAuliffe felt he was strong enough in the polls, he started talking about Ken's support for gun shows. Up to that point, he had left the issue of gun control alone. But when he brought it up, I started to hear a lot of nervous talk from gun owners and that's when I thought the Republicans might just pull off an upset," Parmalee said.

Only one pre-election survey accurately showed how close the race had become in the weekend before the voting: the Emerson College poll, which showed McAuliffe edging Cuccinelli by a tight margin of 42 percent to 40 percent. All polls showed Sarvis taking 6-10 percent of the vote.

Admittedly, Cuccinelli had other problems going into the race. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling abandoned his own candidacy for governor after Cuccinelli's campaign secured a convention instead of a primary as the means of nomination and never endorsed the Republican nominee.

The scandals surrounding lame-duck GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, the constant press attacks on controversial Republican lieutenant governor nominee E.W. Jackson, and the government shutdown — all worked against Cuccinelli.

Matt Lewis, conservative blogger and political pundit, told Newsmax that "George Will's glowing column about Sarvis was at the very least an indication that some conservative voters might be wooed by him.

"While it would be a stretch to say that Sarvis cost Cuccinelli the election, facing a third-party candidate presented additional challenges and distractions for a campaign that already had its hands full," Lewis said. "But when you lose by 3 points, every little thing matters."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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