With polls showing the race for governor of Virginia neck-and-neck, and with both major-party nominees facing ethics accusations, Libertarian nominee Robert Sarvis could well be the pivotal factor in the outcome.
Sarvis, a northern Virginia lawyer and Internet entrepreneur, began to draw attention in July when a Public Policy Polling survey showed him with 7 percent of the vote, an unusually strong number for a third-party candidate.
With Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at 41 percent and Virginia Attorney General Republican Ken Cuccinelli at 37 percent, support for Sarvis could well make the difference in the race.
A Roanoke College poll last week showed that among likely voters, Cuccinelli led McAuliffe by 37 percent to 31 percent, with Sarvis drawing 5 percent — still five times what Virginia's last Libertarian nominee got in 2001.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, 37-year-old Sarvis spelled out his differences with the major-party candidates.
"Cuccinelli can't be trusted on the issue of smaller government," Sarvis said. "He talks about federalism but he favors a constitutional amendment at the federal level to define marriage."
"He also says he is 'evolving' on the issue of the federal war on drugs. That boggles my mind, since I don't see drugs as a state issue. And he favors anti-sodomy laws, which is a personal issue," Sarvis said.
Sarvis takes opposite stands on those issues and made it clear he would pursue a statewide initiative to overturn Virginia's 2006 same-sex marriage ban.
Sarvis said he "probably disagrees with [McAuliffe] on more things, especially the power of government to regulate."
Sarvis supports deregulation to encourage job creation, a more broadly-based tax structure, tax credits and school vouchers at the school-district level, and repeal of existing drug laws, including support to legalize marijuana.
Sarvis' performance in the poll came as charges about the two main contenders were being flung like mud balls.
Cuccinelli has been criticized for accepting a flight and time at the vacation home of businessman Jonnie Williams, whose gifts and loans to outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell have dominated state headlines.
Then came charges against McAuliffe over his "green-car" company that created far more jobs in Mississippi than in Virginia, and whose production figures are questionable.
Like most who call themselves Libertarians, Sarvis insists he is drawing votes from both major parties.
But recent history indicates Libertarians tend to take more from Republicans than Democrats.
After the 2012 elections, the liberal Daily Kos unveiled a chart of nine House and Senate races in which Libertarians competed and Democrats won with pluralities.
"None of these involved the typical 1 or maybe 2 percent you ordinarily expect a [Libertarian] to garner," wrote the Kos' David Nir. "Looking at the three-way vote, all but one was over 3 percent, and three took 6 percent or more, with a high of 6.5 percent in the Montana Senate race. These definitely seem like unusually high figures."
In Indiana's Senate race, for example, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly won by 141,575 votes over State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who earlier in the year defeated veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary.
Libertarian nominee Andrew Horning — who was included in televised debates with the two major-party nominees — captured 146,453 votes, 5.8 percent, enough to have propelled Mourdock to a narrow victory.
"You used the term 'spoiler' to describe what I might be if [McAuliffe] wins with a plurality," Sarvis said. "I see it differently. I'm not spoiling anything for voters when I give them a choice."
And that could spell problems for the GOP.
Former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Newsmax, "The Libertarian candidate, Jonnie Williams, and an unbalanced ticket make what should have been an easy race into an uphill battle" for Cuccinelli.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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