It’s easy to categorize the two major party candidates in Virginia’s race for governor. Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a reputation as an experienced businessman, while Republican and state Attorney General Ken Cucinelli is known as an experienced lawyer.
But Libertarian Robert Sarvis is an entirely different story.
The 36-year-old Fairfax County native has worked as a software engineer, teacher, lawyer and mobile app designer — all before attempting a run for state senate two years ago.
While it’s safe to call the other two candidates career politicians, Sarvis has clearly positioned himself as an outsider that can provide an alternative for undecided voters.
“There’s a lot of conventional wisdom in politics and some of it’s probably correct, and some of it is worth questioning,” Sarvis said. “One of those is the conventional wisdom that you can’t speak to voters like they’re intelligent adults. I’ve always thought it was strange that no one was really trying to do that and this is an opportunity to see what happens when you do.”
When Sarvis first ran for office against Democrat Dick Saslaw in 2011, he ran as a Republican. But his experiences with politics and business quickly pushed him toward libertarianism, and he found that this election was the ideal path to express these views.
“When we saw the way that the candidates were shaping up, that it was going to be Cucinelli and McAuliffe, it just became clear that there was nobody who was going to be talking about actual freedom and the rule of law,” Sarvis said. “It just became really clear that there was value, regardless of the outcome, in having someone who could articulate a lot of these issues that really matter.”
Sarvis’ background also shaped his views on social issues — particularly marriage equality.
His wife, Astrid Sarvis, is black, while Sarvis himself is half white and half Chinese, which makes for a union that would’ve been illegal as recently as 50 years ago in Virginia.
“I’ve always been in favor of (same sex marriage), but obviously it’s more personal because I have an interracial marriage,” Sarvis said. “I travel around the state and I meet a fair number of people who aren’t aware that interracial marriages were illegal 50 years ago and it’s just another example of (George) Santayana’s saying that ‘those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it.’”
These liberal views on social issues are just one of the reasons Sarvis is experiencing a surge of support from younger voters.
“It’s hard for young people to fathom that we wouldn’t treat those couples equally,” Sarvis said. “Young people are just way in advance of everyone else in terms of where they stand.”
Harrison Bergeron, president of the Libertarians at Virginia Tech, agrees that Sarvis’ message resonates especially well on Tech’s campus.
“Tech students are very lucky that we go to a diverse campus, where everyone is diverse and respectful, and I kind of feel like that’s his whole message,” Bergeron said. “Tech students in particular are very accepting of a Hokie, whether it’s a black, gay, straight, white, whatever in between Hokie — we all come from the same family.”
The candidate also believes his conservative economic message specifically appeals to college students.
“They see the high cost of tuition, the institutions capturing all the subsidies, coming off of high debt in a jobless economy,” Sarvis said. “Even when college graduates are able to get a job we take an enormous amount of their paycheck to give to retirees, healthcare and social security, so there are a lot of ways that the system is rigged against young people.”
Thanks to building support from both young people and voters disillusioned with the two major candidates, Sarvis has steadily climbed in the polls. A recent Politico poll pegged the libertarian as receiving 12 percent of the vote.