I’m sure that many of you were shocked by the closeness of the U.S. Senate race here in Virginia. After all, who would have predicted that Democrat Mark Warner, who beat Republican Ed Gillespie by at least nine percentage points in every poll but one, would emerge victorious by only about half a percentage point?
Also in the race was Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. Sarvis, as many will remember, ran last year for governor capturing 6.5% of the vote in a race where only about 2.5% separated the Republican and the Democrat. As such, a number of Republican activists blamed Sarvis for that outcome, claiming that he siphoned enough votes from Ken Cuccinelli to allow Terry McAuliffe to claim victory.
Given that Libertarian Robert Sarvis won almost 2.5% of the vote in this election, some Republicans are claiming, once again, that Sarvis stole another election from them.
The theory behind this argument is that without Sarvis in the race, most of his supporters would instead choose the Republican candidate. In 2013, exit polls showed that a greater percentage of Sarvis voters would have selected the Democrat over the Republican if he were not in the race. After all, he captured more liberals than conservatives, more young than old, and more college graduates than graduates. These are groups that typically trend toward the Democratic Party.
Although I haven’t seen the exits polls for 2014, I believe the opposite happened this time. A larger percentage of typical Republican voters cast their ballots for Sarvis than the Democrats. Almost all self-identified liberty-minded Republicans that I know either cast their ballots for Sarvis or simply left it blank.
“Ah ha!” The Republican establishment shouts. “So you admit that Sarvis stole the 2014 election!”
My answer is no.
Stealing something implies that you have taken something that doesn’t belong to you. I would argue that no candidate or party has an automatic right to any person’s vote regardless of their previous voting history or ideology. Votes are always earned and must be re-earned each and every election; they never should be taken for granted. We aren’t political slaves!
Let’s rewind the clock to the 2002 U.S. Senate election in Virginia. That was John Warner’s last election. You remember John Warner, don’t you? He was the long-serving Republican Senator from Virginia who recently endorsed Democrat Mark Warner for Senate. As a result, some people now consider him a traitor. But this recent revelation conveniently overlooks the fact that he rarely fought for the supposedly Republican principles of restraining the power of the federal government. In addition, he supported gun control and abortion, two positions in stark contrast to a majority of Virginia Republicans. And then there is Warner’s proclivity to oppose the “Republican team” as he did when he denounced Ollie North in 1994 and Mike Farris in 1993.
Even though John Warner and I shared the same political party back then, I could not bring myself to vote for him and thus left that portion of the ballot blank. Did sticking to my principles make me a “bad Republican”?
As stated, this year many conservatives and libertarians who consider themselves Republicans did not feel that Ed Gillespie shared their principles and thus either cast their vote for Sarvis, wrote in Shak Hill, or didn’t vote at all. Who can blame them? After all, the last time I spoke to Ed Gillespie, I asked him which unconstitutional federal agencies would he work to eliminate, his response was that he would “check with his advisers and get back in touch with me”. For someone who believes the federal government has grown too large, that answer was unacceptable and showed, much like Warner over a decade earlier, that he and I disagreed on the most important and fundamental principles of our constitutional republic. Like 2002, if I didn’t have an acceptable option, I simply would not have voted for any of the candidates for Senate.
So, yes. If Robert Sarvis had not been in the race, Gillespie might have ended up winning. But regardless of my opinion of Sarvis, I’m glad that voters had a third choice so they didn’t have to simply vote for the lesser of two evils. The Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, as well as independents have as much of a right to run candidates as the Republicans and Democrats. And, if voters believe that their candidates are better than one or both of the major party candidates, then perhaps they ought to solve this problem by running better candidates. Or, given that Sarvis used to be a Republican, perhaps they ought to work harder to grow the party and stick with their supposed principles as opposed to driving folks away or simply kicking people out of the party as they did in my case.
Just don’t complain that the election was “stolen”.