RICHMOND — The Republican and the Democrat were there again, along with their well-worn lines. But for once, they shared the stage with the Libertarian, whose very presence Saturday made the race for Virginia governor feel fresh with little more than a week to go before Election Day.
Anyone weary of the campaign same-old, same-old — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) saying, “I’m the only candidate in the race who won’t need on-the-job training,” or Democrat Terry McAuliffe declaring, “We’ve got sequestration here for the year” — could enjoy these new nuggets Saturday from little-known candidate Robert Sarvis: Quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Advocating an end to the war on drugs. Discussing abortion as a “metaphysical” disagreement. And saying flatly that contracting policies that favor minority-owned businesses violate “the rule of law.”
It was a revelation to even the most dedicated politics-watchers because Sarvis, who has been polling around 10 percent, has been shut out of every debate. He has participated in some forums with McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, but they were small ones that brought out the candidates sequentially, not together. On Saturday, Sarvis was allowed to take the stage with his major-party competition at a forum sponsored by Radio One and 8News, Richmond’s ABC television affiliate.
“He seems genuine, and I like that he doesn’t appear to be backed by big money,” said Felicia Kalber, 43, who came to the event inclined to vote for Sarvis and left convinced that she would. Kalber, who does accounting work, picked up a Sarvis pin and put it on before leaving.
Sarvis’s opportunity came about a week after his wife, Astrid Sarvis, issued a tearful, 15-minute video describing how disappointed she was that her husband had not been allowed to participate in Thursday’s candidates’ debate at Virginia Tech.
The Richmond forum, which drew more than 100 people to the Virginia War Memorial, was not a formal debate. The candidates sat side by side and took turns answering questions posed by a moderator. There was no back and forth.
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli stuck to their usual themes, with McAuliffe stressing the benefits of expanding Medicaid and Cuccinelli touting his plan to create jobs by cutting business and personal income taxes by $1.4 billion a year.
McAuliffe seemed eager to double down on a statement he made at the Virginia Tech debate, volunteering that he had been given an “F” rating by the National Rifle Association. He brought up the “F” on his own and declared, “I’m not running to be president of the NRA.”
Cuccinelli, who has spent most of the campaign questioning McAuliffe’s ethics, seemed especially focused on the idea that McAuliffe was offering “platitudes” rather than concrete plans.
It was Sarvis who grabbed the most attention, if only because he had so rarely been in the limelight. He said that both major parties had failed the country and that it was time for something new: someone who supports both smaller government, as Cuccinelli does, and socially liberal policies, as McAuliffe does — the only candidate, as Sarvis put it, who is “both open-minded and open for business.”
“A third-party governor is exactly what we need,” he said. “We need . . . to take the good from both and leave the bad behind.”
Apryl Ziegler, 38, works as a paralegal in the attorney general’s office and supports Cuccinelli. But she was intrigued to hear Sarvis take a question about gun control and turn it into an argument for ending the war on drugs.
“That was an interesting take,” she said.
She thought Sarvis seemed a little nervous, but she chalked that up to inexperience.
“He’s kind of new to this,” she said.