By Becky Hogan
Two words commonly used to describe the current Virginia gubernatorial candidates: “lackluster” and “flawed.”
Wednesday night Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe squared off in their second debate of the race, which led many to draw their attention elsewhere–to the race’s up-and-coming third party candidate, Robert Sarvis, a libertarian who is seeing a recent surge in the polls.
Sarvis aired his first ad of the campaign during the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli debate, describing himself as an alternative to the other two candidates.
While there didn’t seem to be a clear winner in Wednesday’s debate, the Twittersphere was siding with Cucinelli, gaining 561 new followers during the debate. Sarvis gained half as many followers as McAuliffe but it’s proof that his ad resonated with some voters even though he’s seen little attention in the media.
The TrendPo Rank is a handy scoring of politicians’ online buzz based on news mentions and social media engagement on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And it demonstrates Sarvis’ recent momentum as well as how tight the race is becoming between its two front-runners.
Lately, the the rank is also mimicking polls, giving McAuliffe a slight edge over Cuccinelli.
McAuliffe leads with 43 percent over Cuccinelli’s 38 percent among likely voters, according to the survey by NBC4/NBC News and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Sarvis, a lawyer and software engineer, is showing about a 10% share in the polls. It’s unlikely that he’ll have a chance at winning the election this stage in the game, but he could take votes away from either Cuccinelli or McAuliffe…and lately it looks to be the former.
Analysts say it could turn out to be the most expensive race in Virginia’s history.
But it’s turning out to be an expensive race because Virginia voters aren’t really impressed by either McAuliffe or Cuccinelli, and both candidates have been questioned about their ethics during the campaign.
While Cuccinelli has been better at engaging voters online, McAuliffe’s campaign has outperformed in fundraising. McAuliffe has raised $18.4 million, while Cuccinelli has raised $11.3 million, according to Virginia Public Access Project.
One thing that’s interesting about the Virginia’s governor race is that it seems to take on trending national issues–in the first debate, Cuccinelli and McAuliffe sparred over abortion and medicaid.
In the second debate, the issue of guns and background checks was center stage. McAuliffe voiced his support for universal background checks. Cuccinelli spoke about the importance of resolving mental health care issues. Sarvis wasn’t invited to the debate but supports gun ownership and blames outdated drug laws for gun violence.
In true anti-government fashion, he also backs legalizing marijuana, reducing taxes and limiting government regulations. Are Virginians ready for Sarvis or just tired of Cuccinelli and McAuliffe? We’ll continue to watch as Sarvis’ rising popularity has consequences for Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.