Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has asked organizers of a debate two weeks before Election Day to raise the threshold for a third-party candidate to participate, according to one of the debate sponsors.
Cuccinelli, who has called for more than a dozen debates around the state, informally agreed to a debate Oct. 24 on Virginia Tech's campus but has not officially signed on. Kelly Zuber, news director for debate sponsor WDBJ in Roanoke, said the Republican's campaign "had several questions [about the debate rules] which we answered today, so I'm sure they are considering that information now." Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has signed on and agreed to the rules.
One of the queries from Cuccinelli's campaign was "about raising the polling percentage for the third-party candidate," Zuber said. She added that the campaign did not indicate that the request was a "deal breaker."
A provision in the debate rules provided by WDBJ allows third-party candidates who reach 10 percent of the vote in "major independent statewide polls" to participate. Unlike in most Virginia gubernatorial elections, that provision could come into play this year. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis is polling near double-digits in a handful of recent surveys and crossed the threshold in a Washington Post poll released this week.
Sarvis told the Washington Examiner that he was optimistic he would be asked to participate in the debate. The inclusion of Sarvis so close to Election Day would be a major wild card in what has been a long, nasty campaign fight full of twist and turns.
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli squared off in their second debate Wednesday.
"We’re gaining momentum at the right time," Sarvis said. "Especially if we can get into that last debate, we’ll be peaking at the right time."
It's not clear who Sarvis would steal more votes from, though he has run for a state Senate seat as a Republican in the past and has tapped into Ron Paul supporters to help position his campaign. McAuliffe holds a 4-point lead in the race according to several recent polls, though the Washington Post poll says that lead jumps to eight when Sarvis' name is included in the survey.
In a story posted Friday, a spokesman for Cuccinelli told CNN that a vote for Sarvis was "a vote for Terry McAuliffe and a vote against liberty." Cuccinelli's campaign did not reply to a request for comment from the Examiner.
The current language in the rules says: "Third party candidates will be invited to participate in the debate if they are polling at 10 percent or above on Thursday, Oct. 10, in major independent statewide polls. The decision concerning what polls are to be used to determine eligibility will be at the discretion WDBJ7."
McAuliffe is on board.
"We agreed to the proposed debate rules earlier this week, including a reasonable standard for the inclusion of third-party candidates," campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said. "While the Cuccinelli campaign has expressed concern to us about including Mr. Sarvis in the debate, we hope Mr. Cuccinelli simply agrees to the debate rules."