As Mitt Romney was ending his Virginia rally on Thursday, he made an unusually direct appeal to voters in the crucial swing state: “I’m counting on you, Virginia,” he told voters in Fairfax. “We have to win this. Find someone who voted for Barack Obama, get him to join our team.”
But Barack Obama isn’t the only candidate Romney needs to worry about in the state that Republicans acknowledge is a must-win on Romney’s path to the White House. When the state’s voters go to the polls, they’ll also find former Virginia congressman Virgil Goode on the ticket, a homegrown, ultra-conservative presidential contender on the Constitution Party line, whose far-right positions on immigration and the federal budget could siphon off just enough disgruntled voters from Romney to give Obama a victory in the state, and possibly the country.
If that sounds like a long shot, it probably is. But as Al Gore knows too well, slim margins and surprise outcomes are hardly unknown in presidential politics, and improbable is a long way from impossible when any state comes down to a few thousand votes.
"If it is a very close election, then Virgil Goode could take enough votes away from Romney to give Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to Obama,” says Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, which sits in the district that Goode represented in Congress for 12 years and in the state Senate for 24 yeas. “But notice the ‘if’—it has to be very close.”
If any state is threatening to have a close election, it’s Virginia. The Real Clear Politics average of polls in the state show Obama up by just 0.3 percent this week. In the Senate race in the state, former Democratic governor Tim Kaine and former senator George Allen are in a dead heat at 46 percent each in the latest NBC/ Marist poll.
And a PPP poll (PDF) taken last month showed that Goode’s presence on the Virginia ballot would have at least some effect on the race, and could significantly hurt Romney in a tight contest. The numbers showed Goode at 4 percent statewide, but pulling Romney’s GOP backing down by as much as eight points.
For that very reason, Goode’s presence in the race has prompted some Republicans to call for him to get out. But the conservative-Democrat-turned-independent-turned Republican is losing no sleep over the prospect that he could affect the final outcome in November.
"My positions are the only ones that, long range, will really save America,” Goode told The Daily Beast in an interview. "Both candidates talk about jobs, but we need jobs for American citizens first,” Goode said. “I think citizenship should count for something…and it really counts for nothing.”
According to Goode, both legal and illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans, but “Democrats are not going to stop it and neither are the Republicans.”
At the top of the Goode presidential agenda is imposing a near-moratorium on granting legal residency to immigrants until the unemployment rate falls below 5 percent, and balancing the federal budget immediately, “not five or ten years down the road,” as Obama and Romney have proposed.
One key to balancing the budget, Goode says, would be denying illegal immigrants and their children access to public schools, Medicaid, and other public services. “The spiraling budget and illegal immigration are about the same thing. There’s a huge cost that comes with illegal immigration.”
As conservative as his proposals are, Goode insists he could be a spoiler for Obama as much as Romney, and says he’s spoken with former Obama supporters who say they’re voting for him instead of the president. “They’re angry with Obama, but they don’t like Romney, either,” Goode says. “They think Romney is too wealthy and too much for the big man and not for the average citizen.”
Goode’s own opinion of Romney? “He’s weak on the issues.”
Unlike the days when Goode campaigned locally in his southern Virginia district, he says his role as presidential nominee for the Constitution Party has him traveling across the country making his case to voters. He’s on the presidential ballot in more than 30 states and is working to hit 40 by Election Day. When he lists the states where he thinks he’ll do well, the roster of too-close-to-predict swing states is enough to strike at least a little fear into a national campaign manager’s heart— Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina, the state that borders Goode’s old congressional district and that Obama won by just 14,000 votes in 2008.
Larry Sabato describes the typical Goode voters as middle-to-lower-middle-class whites who are anti-immigration and anti-Obama, but don’t connect with Romney.
Goode himself says they’re people who are fed up with both the Republicans and the Democrats. “A lot of them probably were not going to vote,” he says. "I talk to a lot of those voters who say, ‘Just give us another choice.’”