Let's be blunt: Libertarian Robert Sarvis isn't going to be elected governor of Virginia on Tuesday. If he stubbornly remains in the race, the only thing his candidacy is going to accomplish is to ensure the election of Terry McAuliffe, the tax-spend-and-regulate liberal Democratic nominee. Virginia can't afford that, financially or otherwise, and no self-respecting libertarian should want that.
For the good of the Old Dominion, Mr. Sarvis should drop out of the race and throw his support to the Republican nominee, conservative state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 11 percent of likely Republican voters backed Mr. Sarvis, and as of Wednesday, he was polling at 9.1 percent in a race where Mr. McAuliffe led Mr. Cuccinelli by 9.2 percent (46.6 percent to 37.4 percent) in the Real Clear Politics rolling average of all polls in the three-way race. (That average, incidentally, is inflated by the inclusion of Tuesday's outlier Washington Post poll that gave Mr. McAuliffe a 12-point lead, 51 percent to 39 percent.) A new Quinnipiac Poll, out Wednesday, by contrast, has the race within the margin of error at 45 percent for Mr. McAuliffe, 41 percent for Mr. Cuccinelli and 9 percent for Mr. Sarvis. If Quinnipiac is right, and if all or most of Mr. Sarvis' support were to gravitate to Mr. Cuccinelli, it would almost certainly put the GOP nominee over the top.
Nowhere in the state is Mr. Sarvis' candidacy hurting Mr. Cuccinelli more than in Southwest Virginia. In a front-page story Oct. 23 on how the race is playing out in Virginia's coal country, The Post cited a September poll that found Mr. Sarvis drawing a stunning 21 percent of registered voters there. That all but eradicates what should be Mr. Cuccinelli's big advantage over Mr. McAuliffe in that strongly Republican region of the state, won by Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009 with a whopping 65 percent of its vote.
Mr. Sarvis' support comes primarily from votes that would presumably otherwise go to Mr. Cuccinelli, who shares Mr. Sarvis' free-market-economics philosophy and who touts a streak of libertarianism. The GOP nominee pointedly notes in his stump speeches that he's the "strongest pro-liberty statewide elected official in my lifetime in Virginia." He cites his high-profile legal challenge to Obamacare and its taxes, regulations and mandates; his strong support of gun rights; his call for personal and business tax cuts and opposition to corporate welfare; his making the fight against human trafficking a priority of the attorney general's office; and his efforts in court to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.
That's a lot more than Mr. Sarvis has in common with Mr. McAuliffe, who so far as anyone been able to discern, has not distanced himself from any of President Obama's big-government spending and regulatory policies. Mr. Sarvis should recall Ronald Reagan's maxim: "My 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy."
It's worth noting, too, that the two foremost icons of libertarianism on the political scene today, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have both endorsed Mr. Cuccinelli — not Mr. Sarvis. If the Pauls find Mr. Cuccinelli acceptable from a libertarian perspective, what reason does Mr. Sarvis have for remaining in the race? That's a point Mr. Cuccinelli should have emphasized when he was joined by Rand Paul at rallies in Virginia Beach, Lynchburg and Fairfax on Monday. Mr. Paul should explicitly call for Mr. Sarvis to bow out of the race for the good of Virginia, lest it become just a mirror image of Maryland. Mr. McAuliffe is politically indistinguishable from liberal Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
With his standing in the polls undeniably hurt by Mr. McAuliffe's multimillion-dollar smear campaign, Mr. Cuccinelli is counting on an energized base to save the day. That strategy pulled him through in his 2007 state Senate re-election bid, which he won by just 92 votes. In 2009, he came from far behind to win his race for attorney general with 57.5 percent of the vote. He's counting on lightning striking a third time, but that can only happen if the libertarian purists set aside the notion that "the lesser of two evils is still evil," and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
That appears to be dawning on at least some libertarians. Writing on the listserv of a Northern Virginia Libertarian Party meetup group, one contributor explained: "As fine a person as Robert Sarvis is, under these circumstances, you can't vote for him. When an election is as close as this, and the LP can change the results, don't [expletive] yourself and the state.
"You have the power to turn [Virginia] into Detroit. Would you vote for Obama? Of course not," he added. "Voting for Sarvis would be putting someone as evil as Obama, but more dangerous, at the helm."
Mr. Sarvis — who was a Republican as recently as 2011, when he ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate from Fairfax — should ask himself: Does he really want to add "spoiler" to his resume? He's a lawyer, businessman and software designer, but as with Mr. McAuliffe, the Virginia governorship isn't, or at least until now hasn't been, an entry-level political job or one that requires on-the-job training. A Cuccinelli administration could find a position — in economic development, perhaps — for Mr. Sarvis in Richmond, but just not the top job.
Peter Parisi is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.