“Climb in — brush that junk off the seat,” presidential candidate Virgil Goode commands, sliding into his mobile man cave. Fast-food wrappers and empty bottles are strewn on his car’s floor mats. “Goode for President” pamphlets, Goode pencils and Goode campaign buttons lie amid boxes of campaign literature covering the back seat. He is alone today, like many days. He is his own driver, strategist, scheduler, press man. He appears to be the portrait of a candidate going nowhere.
Except he might matter hugely in this race. Today, he is in Virginia, ground zero for his quixotic crusade, a battleground state where polls say Barack Obama narrowly leads Mitt Romney. Here, Goode, a proud conservative, a former six-term Virginia congressman and now the Constitution Party’s presidential nominee, stands at a mere 2 percent in polls. But that 2 percent worries Republicans, who see Goode’s scant support as carrying the potential to deprive Mitt Romney of Virginia’s closely contested 13 electoral votes and perhaps the election.
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Privately, some Republicans snipe that Goode, who is already on the ballot in two dozen states, is hungry for attention after losing his congressional seat in 2008; that he wants nothing more now than to be a high-profile spoiler who ruins Romney’s chances in much the way Ralph Nader siphoned Florida votes and contributed to Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000. Some Republicans still hold out hope that Goode can be denied a place on the Virginia ballot, or that he will come to his senses and withdraw from the race in the name of Republican unity.
Goode’s response? Dream on.
“Why would I do that, when I think I can win and help change things?” he says. “Besides, I’m not impressed with Romney. I’m going to do well.”
‘He can’t win’
Today, Goode has come to the southwestern Virginia town of Lynchburg, near his old congressional district. He starts the car and cruises through the parking lot of E.C. Glass High School, where he has just finished a speech before about 40 students. The venue wasn’t exactly a campaign gold mine. Several students firmly challenged him, including Mitchell Swann, the 17-year-old head of the high school’s Young Republicans, who demanded, “Do you know you could take votes away from Mitt Romney and single-handedly let Barack Obama win the election?”
“The difference between Obama and Romney is the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee,” Goode told the students.
Swann was unimpressed. “He should pull out of the race,” Swann said at the end. “He persuaded no one here.” Swann looks genuinely confounded. “I mean, he can’t win. Why is he doing this?”
The young Swann had learned what many senior Republicans have long understood: The 65-year-old Goode is a lone wolf. Once a House Democrat, Goode left the party not long after hopelessly alienating its members by voting to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998. After a brief stint as an independent, he became a Republican, in time to confound many of his new allies with his maverick ways. He is running now to push deficit reduction, rail against the power of PACs and champion his idea of putting a moratorium on the issuance of green cards to immigrants until unemployment falls below 5 percent, an extension of his belief that “immigrants take jobs away from Americans.”