Free the Vote

Ken Cuccinelli’s Libertarian Love Affair

Ken Cuccinelli’s down in the polls, and the clock’s ticking. So the Republican nominee for Virginia governor is courting the libertarian vote. Just ignore that whole anti-sodomy thing.

10.31.13 9:45 AM ET

Can the anti-sodomy candidate be the standard bearer for libertarians?

Ken Cuccinelli sure hopes so.

The Republican nominee for Virginia governor—who tried and failed to reinstate a ban on oral and anal sex in his home state—has been doggedly courting the party of individual liberty in a last-minute attempt to save his candidacy.

Cuccinelli’s campaign has been lagging in the polls, with the latest Washington Post/Abt SRBI poll putting him at 39% among likely voters compared to 51% for Democrat Terry McAuliffe and 8% for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. Those voters won’t propel Sarvis to the statehouse—but they could make a big difference for Cuccinelli, if only he can win them over. His bet: Virginia libertarians might not like his social conservatism, but it’s got to be preferable to McAuliffe’s big-government zeal for Obamacare.

So he’s been touting the endorsement of free market hero Rep. Ron Paul, and at a campaign stop in Fairfax Monday, he was accompanied by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The two men entered the room clutching Big Gulps, a blatant shot at New York Mayor and large-soda hater Michael Bloomberg, whose pro-gun control PAC is currently spending millions of dollars on Virginia airwaves. “I heard Mike Bloomberg wanted to buy the governor’s office down here, and I figured after he took my Big Gulp, he’d come after my guns,” said Paul.

The Kentucky senator then went into a generic stump speech, talking about the NSA, Guantanamo, and a variety of other issues a Virginia governor would likely have no say in. Cuccinelli followed, proclaiming that he was running a “campaign for liberty” that would “restrain the size of government.” His evidence for doing so was his opposition to gun control and Obamacare, the same pitch he’s been giving to party faithful all year.

The partitioned room, thickly carpeted and lit by chandeliers, was packed with more than 250 supporters, one of whom eventually fainted and had to be carried out by other attendees. Many seemed to be the usual suspects at Cuccinelli events, including older activists waving “I am with the NRA” signs and moms with gold cross necklaces and kids in tow.

There were some confessed libertarians in the group. Jason Bowles of Fairfax, an earnest unshaven 28-year-old wearing a blazer, insisted that “the real libertarian running is Ken Cuccinelli.” He thought Cuccinelli’s strong opposition to Obamacare made him the clear choice. Bowles said he could have seen a case to vote for Sarvis in 2009, when the Democrat and the Republican candidates, were, in his words, “milquetoast moderates”—but not this year.

Will Lynch, a 24-year-old from Woodbridge, cast his first ballot for Ron Paul in the 2008 primary, but was somewhat less enthusiastic about Cuccinelli. He said he was just being “more pragmatic” in his choice and didn’t have any desire to see McAuliffe as governor. Ian Campbell, a sophomore at nearby George Mason University, who volunteered in his native Vermont for the state Republican Party, echoed this. In his opinion, fiscal issues are far more important than social ones. While Campbell, who identifies as a libertarian, maintains his voter registration in Vermont, he still feels that Cuccinelli represents a far more realistic choice than the libertarian alternative.

One problem Cuccinelli could face is that even though there’s a sizeable bloc of Sarvis voters up for grabs, they aren’t necessarily the type who would turn out for republican rallies—even rallies headlined by a member of the Paul family. The Washington Post survey found that this group disproportionately identifies as independents and are more likely to back McAuliffe as their second choice.