The sponsor of the final debate of the Virginia governor’s race, citing a public backlash to the Libertarian candidate’s exclusion, has asked the major-party candidates to consider letting him participate. But Robert Sarvis still appears unlikely to be included in the event because of ongoing opposition from Ken Cuccinelli II’s campaign.
Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) will meet Thursday at Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus for their third debate of the contest, sponsored by WDBJ-TV, the Roanoke CBS affiliate. Sarvis did not make the cut, WDBJ announced Oct. 10, because he failed to meet the threshold established in rules negotiated by Cuccinelli, McAuliffe and WDBJ.
The rules required that Sarvis average at least 10 percent in public polls, a standard he missed by a fraction of a point. (As of Saturday evening, Sarvis’s poll average on the RealClearPolitics Web site was 9.8 percent.)
But on Friday, according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post, WDBJ’s news director, Kelly Zuber, wrote to the McAuliffe and Cuccinelli campaigns, “We have received quite a bit of negative reaction to the exclusion” of Sarvis.
“WDBJ7 will live up to the agreement we have with both of your campaigns,” Zuber continued, “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.”
Sarvis is seen as pulling more support from the Republican side, and Cuccinelli’s team has pushed all along to exclude him, according to sources familiar with the debate negotiations.
It’s unclear how Cuccinelli responded to Friday’s query, and the campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Zuber would not comment directly on the issue. “There has been no change in the agreement that was negotiated by the two candidates,” she said Friday.
Aware that Sarvis is probably cutting into Cuccinelli’s support, McAuliffe’s campaign has been more welcoming.
Asked about the e-mail from WDBJ, McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said: “We have replied that the McAuliffe campaign is fine with Mr. Sarvis’s inclusion, as we have been throughout this process.”
Sarvis spokesman John LaBeaume said Friday that the campaign was unaware of any talk that Sarvis might be included in the debate after all.
He also stressed that Sarvis did not hold the television station responsible for the omission, given that the rules were negotiated jointly.
“The Sarvis campaign did not encourage anybody to offer feedback to WDBJ,” LaBeaume said.
In addition to WDBJ, Virginia Tech officials have heard a public outcry about Sarvis’s being left out of the event, according to a person familiar with the complaints.
Sarvis’ wife, Astrid, recorded a video this week making an emotional plea for him to be included. It is “unfair,” she said, to leave him out “despite earning the right to be on the ballot.”