Libertarian Cliff Hyra wants Virginians to ignore the attack ads in the governor's race featuring MS-13 gang members, pedophiles and neo-Nazis, and vote for the guy whose long-shot campaign has at least been clean.
Less than a week before Tuesday's election, Hyra held a news conference at the state Capitol Thursday to emphasize his dismay over the "wild-eyed accusations and divisive rhetoric" flying between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam and their supporters.
"I fear for the future of our commonwealth and of our nation. When even the most staid candidates feel that they have to descend to this level of discourse to win an election. And are willing to do so," said Hyra, a 35-year-old Mechanicsville patent attorney who will appear on the ballot Tuesday as the only third-party candidate for governor.
Hyra's campaign had said his announcement could "alter the course of the contest," a slight oversell that fueled speculation he might drop out and endorse one of the other two candidates. But he didn't have much nice to say about Northam or Gillespie.
"It's unbelievable to me that I had to be the grownup in the room, because these 60-year-old men, these establishment politicians, a sitting lieutenant governor and a [former] chairman of the Republican National Committee apparently think that the best strategy (for) getting elected to the highest position of the state is name-calling. I feel like telling them: 'Don't make me turn this car around.' "
Northam pushed back by saying Gillespie should be "ashamed" over his "fear-mongering campaign."
Gillespie has invested heavily in ads attacking Northam as soft on the Latino street gang MS-13 because Northam voted against a ban on sanctuary cities earlier this year, even though no sanctuary cities exist in Virginia. Gillespie has also used the case of a convicted sex offender to bash Northam for supporting Gov. Terry McAuliffe's expansive approach to restoring felons' voting rights.
The Gillespie campaign, which in its own ads has painted Northam as soft on the MS-13 street gang and sex offenders, responded to the ad with outrage.
Northam and the rest of the Democratic ticket put out a mailer linking Gillespie and President Donald Trump to the tiki-torch-carrying white supremacists who have rallied in Charlottesville, despite Gillespie's repeated denunciations of the group.
An outside group, the Latino Victory Fund, put out a video ad showing a pickup truck with a Confederate flag and Gillespie bumper sticker chasing down minority children. The ad, which has since been pulled, has become a major focus for Republicans in the closing days of the race, as Democrats insist their side's ads are a legitimate response to Gillespie's racially tinged ads on immigration and Confederate statues.
All of it, Hyra said, has distracted from real policy discussions that could better serve voters. He ticked off several his own policy positions, which include legalizing marijuana and other criminal justice reforms, scrapping SOL testing, protecting property owners from eminent domain "abuse," opposing proposed pipelines and cutting taxes and regulation.
Hyra was not invited to participate in any of the three gubernatorial debates, and his poll numbers have reflected the limited ability of third-party candidates to break through. In the 2013 governor's race, Libertarian Robert Sarvis pulled in 6.2 percent of the vote, leading some Republicans to accuse the Libertarian of playing "spoiler" in Republican Ken Cuccinelli's close loss to McAuliffe.
Hyra said he's drawing support from independents and people who may not be regular voters, so he's not concerned about his potential role as a spoiler. He said he'd like to hit 10 percentage points, which would make it easier for Libertarians to get on the ballot in future elections.
"I'll be happy with whatever percentage I get," Hyra said.