“Anything's theoretically possible but it's highly unlikely” that Ken Cuccinelli will be able to catch up with Terry McAuliffe and win the Virginia gubernatorial election on November 5, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said in an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner.
Sabato, director of the UVA Center for Politics, made his comments after he moderated a panel discussion in Newcomb Hall about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy on October 14.
In order for Republican Cuccinelli to pass his Democratic opponent, who is currently leading in the polls by about 9 percent, Sabato said, “something gigantic would have to happen in the final debate on October 24. That's really the only big event remaining.”
The polling trends, Sabato explained, “are pretty strongly in the Democrat's favor, not because people are in love with McAuliffe, but simply because he was lucky enough to be the Democratic nominee opposing this ticket,” which is “pretty far to the right, too far for Virginia.”
Ironically, no Democrat challenged McAuliffe for his party's nomination.
One reason for that, Sabato said, is that “they thought Cuccinelli would win. We had this long trend of voting for the party opposite the president and Cuccinelli had won in a landslide for Attorney General” in 2009. As a consequence, “I think a lot of Democrats said, 'Eh, I don't want to do it.'”
Asked why Cuccinelli partisans have recently begun using social media to attack Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian nominee, Sabato said they are working under false assumptions.
“They believe, incorrectly, that Sarvis' 8 to 12 percent – whatever it is, let's say 10 percent for the purpose of argument – that somehow, if Sarvis were to be convinced to drop out, that 10 percent would move to Cuccinelli.”
That, Sabato said, is “a total misreading of the data."
He explained that, if one breaks down the available polling data, “Cuccinelli would probably pick up, net, about 2 points." There are also potential McAuliffe voters among those saying they plan to vote for Sarvis and there are "people who would not vote or would write in a candidate if they didn't have someone else to vote for" besides the Libertarian.
Criticizing Sarvis, Sabato explained, is based upon “a misreading of the election data. They're grasping at straws because, let's face it, they've got a steep uphill climb.”
'Margin of error'
Sabato was mildly critical of the Virginia Tech-WDBJ debate organizers for choosing to exclude Sarvis from participating along with Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.
“You know, I understand because I've been in the position of running debates, but when I turned down a third-party candidate it was because he was nowhere near the ten percent level.”
Sarvis, he pointed out, “has been over the 10 percent level in a number of surveys and they all have a margin of error.” He was showing an average of 9 percent on the day the debate decision was made.
“I've got news for you: there's a two or three percent margin of error and that suggests that he could just as easily be over 10 as under 10. I'm surprised that there hasn't been more of an outcry that he's been excluded from the debate.”
Even though Sarvis' supporters have complained about the exclusion, Sabato thought the general public might be equally unhappy.
“People might have said, 'I want to hear this other guy. I'm really not that happy with the two who are running.' We've heard that thousands of times during the campaign,” he noted.
Were Sarvis able to maintain that 10 percent portion of the vote through election day, it would mean that the Libertarian Party gains ballot status as an official political party under Virginia law, which has further ramifications.
“For a whole election cycle,” said Sabato, the party will “get automatic placement on the ballot and a lot more respect.”
At a later date, look on Examiner.com for Larry Sabato's comments on his new book, The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, from this same interview.