Libertarian Candidate Hits 10 Percent in Virginia, Won't Be Invited to Debate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 23 2013 10:09 AM

Libertarian Candidate Hits 10 Percent in Virginia, Won't Be Invited to Debate

The latest RealClearPolitics average of polling in Virginia's race for governor puts Democrat Terry McAuliffe at 46.4 percent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli at 36.8 percent, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis at 10 percent. All year, channel WDBJ7, the sponsor of the final debate (it's tomorrow), had said that any candidate polling at 10 percent or more would make it onstage.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

But no, Sarvis won't be there. The cutoff for inclusion in the debate was Oct. 10, two weeks before the event (as if anything could change a campaign in two weeks). On that date, Sarvis was polling at an average of 9 percent, so he was out.

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"We all know what happened here," said Sarvis after the decision came down. "As the goalposts kept changing over the past couple weeks, it became clear that the decision would be made on the basis of measures that have the patina of objectivity, but in fact are designed to exclude." The last poll before the deadline, a Politico/PPP survey, gave Sarvis 12 percent, so the network ran with the average that added in older, lower numbers.

Normally, the exclusion of a third-party candidate from a debate is a bottom-of-the-pile human curiousity story. Virginia's 2013 race is unique, though—neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli has a net favorable rating. Sarvis, who has never held office, has actually steadily risen as the campaign's gone on. In southwest Virginia, where the major-party nominees are least popular, he polls in the 20s. Pollsters who ask voters for their second choice find that Sarvis voters aren't actually skewing the result; the Sarvis-free electorate still votes for McAuliffe.

So it's embarassing, enough for the network to tell the candidates that a waiver might be a good idea.

WDBJ7 will live up to the agreement we have with both of your campaigns, but want you to know we would certainly entertain an amendment to the agreement allowing Mr. Sarvis to participate with no restrictions. Our organization is dedicated to providing as much information to the voters as possible.

The campaigns have not obliged.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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