The most interesting thing about the Virginia gubernatorial debate Wednesday night wasn’t the bitter personal attacks between the two lackluster candidates from the dominant political parties. It was the television ad by the man who wasn’t there.

Looking young and fresh, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, kept out of the debate, cast himself with his ad as a real alternative to Republican Kenneth Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

Sarvis says in the ad that, “like you,” he can’t support Cuccineli’s “narrow-minded social agenda” or McAuliffe’s “cronyism … where government picks winners and losers.”

The Annandale lawyer and software engineer set a nice Libertarian balance, shunning the flag-waving of other right-wing groups such as the Tea Party while offering an anti-government message that stabbed at McAuliffe’s ties to big machine Democrats.

Sarvis, who hasn’t a prayer of being elected, is making a difference. A recent Post poll puts him at 10 percent. He is mostly stealing that away from Cuccinelli. who got 39 percent compared with McAuliffe’s 47 percent in the poll.

I’m hardly a Libertarian and have very mixed views on Sarvis’s platform. His backing of legalizing marijuana is intriguing for a hidebound state like Virginia. It shows the potential for newcomers and younger residents to change the Old Dominion.

The rest of his platform is standard and unworkable anti-government fare. He wants “competition” in education but he doesn’t explain how to do that in poor inner-city or rural districts. He backs gun ownership by putting the blame for violence on outdated drug laws. That ignores the issues of mental illness that played out so tragically in the Navy Yard shootings. The rest of his platform is an Ayn Rand fantasy of rolling back taxes, regulations, and so on.

Still, Sarvis has an appeal and brings in sharp focus the severe flaws of the two major gubernatorial candidates. He’ll be worth watching in the future.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.