- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Cliff Hyra, the long-shot Libertarian candidate in this year’s closely watched race for Virginia governor, knows of at least two people who are bullish about his chances on Election Day.

His two eldest daughters, ages 7 and 5, are convinced he’s going to win, Hyra said in a recent interview. But polls suggest they are part of a very small group, one that doesn’t include the candidate himself.

“I’ve told them, ‘Probably not,’” Hyra said. “I think they’ll be disappointed, but I’m sure they’ll get over it.”

Hyra, an intellectual property attorney and 35-year-old father of four, is polling at just a few percentage points in most polls. That’s not enough to have a chance to win, but it could be enough to alter what’s likely to be a close contest between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam.

It’s unclear who may benefit, and some supporters of both Gillespie and Northam have expressed concern that Hyra could pull critical votes away from their preferred candidate. Adding to the stakes is the fact that Virginia is one of only two states electing new governors this year, and the swing state’s contest is getting national attention as a possible early referendum on President Donald Trump.

But Hyra said he’s running to “move the policy debate” and is not worried about potential side effects.

“I’m not Republican, I’m not a Democrat, I really don’t care if I spoil the election for one or the other,” said Hyra, who has been shut out of the candidate debates and has little money to get his message out. “If we can build momentum for some of the places where I think Virginia needs to improve … that’s a major reason I’m in the race.”

Hyra’s campaign platform is heavy on protecting personal freedoms and limiting government power. It includes calling for a severe curtailment of the state’s numerous food and beverage laws, legalizing marijuana and protecting individual property rights. He said his emphasis on criminal justice reform has already partially paid off by the emphasis both Gillespie and Northam are giving to the issue.

He said he’s gained support from Republican voters turned off by Trump, but is also drawing close looks from environmentalists and landowners who are unhappy with Northam for not opposing two proposed natural gas pipelines. Hyra is the only candidate opposing the pipelines, saying property rights should outweigh a private company’s ability to seize land for profit.

Libertarian campaigns are not new in Virginia. Libertarian Robert Sarvis may have played a pivotal role in the 2013 gubernatorial contest when he won 7 percent, including a high number of independent voters. That campaign was marked by a lack of voter enthusiasm for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the winner, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Support for Sarvis was much lower a year later, though, when he only won 2 percent in a U.S. Senate race where Gillespie narrowly lost to Mark Warner.

Undecided voter Andre Jenkins, an information technology worker in Virginia Beach, said he was unaware there was a Libertarian in this year’s race until a reporter told him. But Jenkins said he likes fiscally conservative and socially liberal candidates like Hyra and will likely decide between him and Northam before Election Day. Jenkins firmly rejected the idea that a vote for a third-party candidate would be a waste.

“It gets on my nerves,” he said. “We need more than just the Democrats and the Republicans.”

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