Former Virginia Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr.'s bid for the White House as the Constitution Party's nominee could help resuscitate a political career cut short by a razor-thin loss in 2008 — but it also carries the risk of tipping the scales toward President Obama in the all-important swing state.
Mr. Goode, nominated at the party's convention in April, insists he intends to be more than just an also-ran — he wants to win. The Democrat-turned-independent-turned-Republican, who represented the state's Southside 5th District for six terms before losing to Democrat Tom Perriello by 727 votes in 2008, says he can provide an outlet for disaffected voters from both parties.
"We're going to take votes from Obama and Romney," he said. "I've had several [Democrats] say, 'We're not voting for Obama; we're voting for you.' "
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls has Mr. Obama with a two-point lead in the state over Mr. Romney — 47 percent to 45 percent. But figures released in May by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling raised the eyebrows of many poll-watchers and pundits.
Mr. Obama topped Mr. Romney by eight points in Virginia, 51 percent to 43 percent, in the PPP poll. If Mr. Goode was on the ballot, however, Mr. Obama's lead over Mr. Romney increased to 12 points, at 50 percent to 38 percent, with Mr. Goode taking 5 percent of the vote.
"There is clearly an opening for a third-party challenge on Romney's right," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington. "In Southside Virginia, [Goode is] a living institution. The problem for the Goode campaign is, he's not that well-known outside his old congressional district, much less outside Virginia.
Indeed, Mr. Goode has managed to qualify for the ballot in 17 states thus far, according to his campaign website — and Virginia is not one of them. He garnered less than 0.5 percent of the vote in a Gallup poll of registered voters conducted between June 7 and June 10, and support for third-party candidates has historically trended downward as Election Day nears.
But Mr. Goode's close political ties to Virginia could change that, at least inside the state, and tea party voters are one bloc that would seemingly gravitate toward him. Mark Lloyd, past chairman of both the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation and the Lynchburg Tea Party, though, said there simply isn't much chatter about Mr. Goode's candidacy in those circles.
"Folks in the 5th District just think the world of Virgil," he said. "I understand his frustration — but I don't see that a third party stands a chance at impacting anything positively at this point. I think what it will be is that any vote for a [third party] will pretty much be a vote for Obama."
Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state who has advised former Govs. L. Douglas Wilder and Mark R. Warner, agreed.
"It's a net loss for Romney," he said of the possibility that Mr. Goode would end up on the ballot in Virginia. "The president doesn't have to win Virginia to get elected, but there's a good chance Romney does. In that case, Goode could cost Romney the presidency — no question about it."
Still, Mr. Goldman conceded that would be a long-shot scenario. The Constitution Party has never attracted more than 200,000 votes in a presidential election. Mr. Obama won Virginia by about 235,000 votes in 2008; four third-party candidates and write-ins won a total of 38,723 votes.
Nevertheless, Mr. Goode is running full steam ahead. Aside from some money left over from his previous congressional committee, he's not taking donations of more than $200, and is only accepting donations from individuals — a formula he thinks can help him break through the third-party-candidate glass ceiling.
"We might crack it this time," he said. "I'm a grass-roots candidate. We won't ever have money in the magnitude of Obama and Romney, but we're talking about issues."
One of those key issues, as it has been throughout his career, is illegal immigration.
"My position is clear: no amnesty for illegal immigrants entering the country," he said. "To do what's right and what's legal, you're going to make some people mad. And we need a president who will do that."
The 65-year-old Virginian indeed talks the talk when he calls himself a "grass-roots" candidate: stuck like many on the East Coast in recent days with no electricity, he discussed his candidacy via cellphone, saying that he could go and start up his car if he needed to charge it.
"I think in politics, every now and then you run into politicians who have a strong commitment to values," Mr. Farnsworth said. "And Virgil Goode is one of those really committed conservatives that wants to be part of the conversation. To view him as an opportunist would be a misread."
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