Cuccinelli has raised nearly $7 million; McAuliffe more than $12 million. Sarvis has raised $39,000, all from private donors, since his campaign launch.
“We have been able to raise what we have needed so far,” Sarvis said. “It’s very organic and it kind of builds on itself. I think we are gaining a lot of momentum.”
Now, how can Robert Sarvis win the election? It is a extreme long shot. But McAuliffe seems to have ethical issues and some fear Cuccinelli’s social issues. (I think Ken Cuccinelli is much more complex than that. He did take on Obamacare and was right – the Commerce Clause did not authorize the individual mandate but the tax issue that the administration tried to finesse at best turned out to be the winner! Cuccinelli also was involved in an organization in college to prevent women from sexual/relationship violence on campus.) It is more realistic that the Libertarian could get the ten percent to become a legal, recognized political party. That would be a huge victory for the party as they could run candidates throughout the Commonwealth without expensive petition drives.
But there is a path to victory for Sarvis: The 1998 governor’s race in Minnesota where Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura won the election. Here is Wikipedia’s take on it. I would admit that the North Star State is much much more conducive to third parties than Virginia is. They elected a Farmer-Labor candidate for governor three times from 1930 through 1936 (Floyd B. Olsen) and the Farmer-Labor party was according to Wikipedia enormously successful in Minnesota:
The Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party (FL) was a left-wing American political party in Minnesota between 1918 and 1944. Largely dominating Minnesota politics during the Great Depression, it was one of the most successful statewide third party movements in United States history and the longest-lasting affiliate of the national Farmer-Labor movement. At its height in the 1920s and 1930s, party members included three Minnesota Governors, four United States Senators, eight United States Representatives and a majority in the Minnesota legislature.
That is a pretty amazing record for a third party! But also helping Ventura in 1998 was the strong showing that Ross Perot garnered 23% in Minnesota in 1992 and 12% in 1996.
So, what would it take? Probably both several debates where Sarvis does well (as Ventura did in 1998), an intense negative campaign between the major party candidates (Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey III and Republican Norm Coleman, at that time the Mayor of St. Paul), and Ventura had significant funds for the election:
Ventura spent around $300,000 and combined it with an aggressive grassroots campaign that featured a statewide bus tour, pioneered use of the Internet for political purposes, and aired quirky TV ads designed by Bill Hillsman, who forged the phrase “Don’t vote for politics as usual.” Unable to afford many television ads, Ventura mainly focused on televised debates and public appearances, preaching his brand of libertarian politics. His speech at a parade in rural Minnesota during the summer attracted what organizers of the annual event described as one of its largest audiences. He ran on cutting taxes, reducing state government, and reducing public school classroom sizes to a 17 to 1 ratio. He also supported a public debate on the viability of legalized prostitution.
Now, every candidate has an Internet presence. But a TV and radio presence would be necessary for the upset victory. Sarvis’ slogan and attractive family and amazing credentials would have to be a feature of those ads. A chance to win in the polls would be critical. Ventura was polled at 21% in one poll (Humphrey had 35 and Coleman 34) and then surged to a victory where he got nearly 37% (Coleman got 34% and Humphrey 29%) Here is the Washington Post’s 1998 take on the Ventura victory:
More than half the voters in exit polls described themselves as moderate and nine in 10 said the state’s economy is good or excellent. If it were not an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction that led voters to Ventura, analysts pointed instead to a mix of the candidate’s celebrity, a sense that politics doesn’t especially matter and a chance to send a message to politicians.
Ventura lured thousands of young voters to the polls; 10 percent of those surveyed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune said they would not have bothered to vote were “The Body” not on the ballot. And Ventura won nearly half of the vote among those under 30. Ventura did especially well among young men, according to the Star-Tribune poll.
Sarvis needs to attract young voters to the polls in huge numbers and also offer a viable alternative. He needs to show he can win. The best way to do that in the Ron Paul era is the money bomb. Sarvis needs at least a million dollars to be viable. But raising the million would be a story in and of itself. The media listened to Paul in 2008 because of all the money he raised in the two Trevor Lyman money bombs. Also spending the money wisely is essential where I believe there is waste in huge numbers in campaigns to ensure the voters are saturated. That saturation might in fact play into Sarvis’ hands. Radio is useful too and cheaper. So, who will do it? Perhaps if Libertarians around the nation were to decide that this race is the one to give money to, in an off-year election, they could have a unique impact.
It’s an extreme long shot but it is one that Ken Cuccinelli ignores at his peril. He must present a positive, action oriented, real effort to lead the Commonwealth not just attack his opponent.