Skip to main content

Fallout from Va Gov race

Some might wonder why the LPKY Chair is weighing in on a race in Virginia. Well, there are some very important lessons to be learned from it. In the final days of the Virginia gubernatorial race, some big names came out to bash the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis. Some weren't surprising, but a few were. In order to set the record straight, let's first address the actual claims. Then, I'll get to the vote-splitting math.

Dispelling the smears

Claim: Robert Sarvis was an Obama shill because he was funded by a Democratic bundler for Obama.
Reality, Part one: Someone gave money to Democrats and Libertarians, because he doesn't like the Republican point of view on a key issue; immigration.

Back at the end of 2008, a man contacted me expressing interest in the Libertarian Party. ... I've raised $300,000 from this donor for the Libertarian Booster PAC. He has provided very little in the way of instruction or advice regarding use of the money. ... He thought Democrats were taking Hispanics for granted, and Republicans were often hostile, and perhaps a massive wave of Hispanics could be convinced to join the Libertarian Party since we have a pro-immigration platform.
(source: Wes Benedict, founder of Libertarian Booster PAC

Reality, Part two: The guy is not the "Obama bundler", his wife is. And he's personally given more to Libertarians than to anyone else.
The Center for Responsive Politics says that since 2009, Texas high-tech entrepreneur $172,500 to Libertarian committees versus $132,996 to Democratic committees and federal candidates. (He did max out to President Obama in 2011: $5,000.) Add in money from his wife, Andra, and Democrats edge out Libertarians, $243,993 to $235,829. Andra, not Joe, is the Obama bundler, listed as raising between $200,000 and $500,000 for the 2012 campaign. Neither of the Liemandts gave directly to Sarvis.
(source: NPR

Claim: Robert Sarvis supported Obamacare / expanding Medicaid.
Reality: Sarvis wanted more local control of Medicaid, realized Obamacare won't be stopped.

"I would like to see us get more state policy freedom before we expand Medicaid. ... And we also have a lot of state-level regulations where we shoot ourselves in the foot, and I'm the only candidate talking about those things."

(source: MSNBC interview, at 1:28)

Claim: Robert Sarvis didn't support tax decreases
Reality: Sarvis wanted to prioritize spending, make expenditures transparent, and then cut taxes.

I think we actually can prioritize our spending, focus on the things we should be focusing on, and eventually we can reduce spending...

(source: MSNBC interview, at 2:41)

Claim: Robert Sarvis supported a "black box" / GPS / miles driven tax
Reality: Sarvis only refused to rule it out.
This is too difficult to transcribe. Watch the source video. There are libertarians who have supported the use of tolls, rather than the fuel tax, for a long time now. Personally, I have supported the fuel tax, but as alternately-powered vehicles become more common, there will have to be a new funding mechanism to ensure that people are paying for what they use.
(source: MSNBC interview, at 3:38)

Claim: Robert Sarvis is a liberal, not a libertarian
Reality: Sarvis is a libertarian.
This is just common sense. If Sarvis was the "big liberal" that the smear campaign claimed, then the GOP campaign shouldn't have blocked his access to the final televised debate. If he had been a "big liberal", he'd have shown it on TV and it would have hurt the Democrat candidate (who agreed to let Sarvis in the last televised debate). Obviously, they thought it was better that the public didn't find out who he was, and therefore confirms that they thought he was a libertarian.
(source: Just think about it.)

Analysis of the results

Claim: Robert Sarvis caused the Republican to lose
Reality: The GOP candidate lost all by himself.

Analysis

It's pretty easy to do the math on this race. Despite the claims on various right-wing news outlets, the exit polls were very telling. Sarvis voters, who would have otherwise voted, broke 2-to-1 as otherwise-Democratic voters. (source: ABC exit polling, CNN exit polling, in-depth analysis)

In fact, it had been that way throughout the race. The GOP candidate consistently polled in the high-30s and low-40s. The Democrat polled consistently at low-40s and mid-40s. The Democrat started to run away with it, reaching into the high-40s, and then the Obamacare debacle hit. What was interesting, was that the GOP candidate didn't really go up from this; Sarvis did. Why? (source: Real Clear Politics poll collection)

The GOP candidate had been strongly tied to unpopular stances that were very socially conservative. Some of this was quite justified. (source: Huffington Post)

Also, the national GOP had cut off the GOP candidate from funding, because he was considered a Tea Party candidate. And we've seen that the national GOP is going to war against the Tea Party faction of the GOP. (source: Washington Times)

But perhaps most importantly, the GOP candidate wasn't running for, but simply against the Democrat. Now, that strategy sometimes works in a 2-way race (though I would argue that it just depresses turnout). However, even if it does work to a limited extent, when there's more than 2 people in a race, simply beating up the "other guy" doesn't cut it. You have to be for something. I've talked about this before.

Turnout was only 30%. While it may be easy to blame the Libertarian, the reality is that it should have been far easier to get more people to turn out in favor of the GOP candidate, if they had played their cards right in the campaign.

But, the smear campaign did work, in part. Going into the weekend before the election, the results were looking to be 47/43/9 (with some fuzzy math for decimal points). This looked pretty clear based on every poll (except a last-minute hastily-made PPP poll) the week before the election. The actual results were 47.74/45.24/6.62. So most, if not all, of the otherwise-Republican vote went back to the GOP candidate, courtesy of the smear campaign. The exit polls showed that Sarvis earned votes from voters that would have voted anyway to have been 2-to-1 Dem-to-Rep. And of course, in the end, it wasn't enough.

It is important to note the math there. 2-to-1 otherwise-Dem to otherwise-Rep. In other words, if Sarvis had't been in the race, the Democrat would have done worse. As I watched the early returns come in, you could actually see every bit of the vote for Sarvis coming out of the Democratic candidate.

So with the math settled, let it be known that, no, Robert Sarvis did not cost the GOP the election.

The long-term result

The long-term result of this is that Libertarians have learned who their friends are.

Some groups that I've personally endorsed and sent people toward can be quite certain that I won't be doing that anymore. These groups know who they are. See, the whole reason I'm not a Democrat or a Republican is because I refuse to give political capital to my political opponents. I believe in liberty -- not just economic liberty or social liberty -- but liberty, in total.

Libertarian candidates need to watch their backs. I told this to a newer libertarian campaign team just this week. If we're somehow perceived to be threatening Rand Paul's chances for the 2016 presidential nod, he might do to us in Kentucky, like he did to Sarvis in Virginia -- drag Ron into Kentucky and have him spread half-truths.

Now understand, it pains me to say such things; Ron Paul is the reason I got back into politics in 2005. However, it's obvious that Ron has switched long-term goals with the short-term goal of getting Rand elected president in 2016. However, I would say that such a goal is futile if we don't continue to change the hearts and minds of Americans and Kentuckians. So, while Rand may have bought some points within the GOP (and I'd venture to say that it didn't), it certainly hurt the overall libertarian movement; tearing it into two peices. And certainly, he shouldn't expect support from the people he just threw under the bus.