RICHMOND, Va. -- On Nov. 7, you will see Cliff Hyra’s name on the ballot for governor right next to Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. But the Libertarian candidate has not been able to get beside them in the campaign spotlight or on the debate stage.
The 34-year-old candidate said the time to run for governor is now, because Virginia’s future is very important to him.
“I don’t think there’s any time to wait,” Hyra said. “I didn’t like what any of the other candidates were offering. I didn’t think that they were talking about a lot of issues that were important to me.”
For Hyra, being a gubernatorial candidate is just one of the many hats he wears. He is a patent and trademark attorney, and father of four children; his youngest is just two months old. A northern Virginia native, the 34-year-old moved his family to his wife’s hometown Mechanicsville in 2015.
According to Hyra’s campaign website, his campaign platform includes tax and spending cuts, fully legalizing marijuana, criminal justice reform and privatizing the Virginia ABC.
“If I waited until I’m 65 to run, then all that stuff may still be the way it is now,” Hyra said. “And the people of Virginia need that to change now. Not when my kids are grown up, not when I’m retired. As soon as possible.”
Hyra, an advocate for same sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, made a recent campaign stop at RVA Pride. People paraded around him with rainbow flags and glitter, but voters at the event were open about their struggles supporting a third-party candidate.
“You know less about them, so it’s hard to get behind a candidate you don’t know much about,” said Richmond voter Tom Hinkes.
Ryan Hinge said he didn’t want his vote to go to waste. “I want to vote for someone who has a better chance, so you don’t fall into that trap,” he said.
On Wednesday Hampton University released a new poll showing Gillespie ahead of Northam with 41 to 33 percent and with 27 percent undecided. According to a poll from Quinnipiac University and a recent poll from Monmouth University Hyra sits at two and three percentage points.
Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor Alexandra Reckendorf said that Hyra’s chance of winning was slim to none.
“There simply aren't enough people who strongly identify with the Libertarian spirit to garner a plurality of the votes in this state,” Reckendorf said. “Most Libertarians are ideological conservatives.”
Reckendorf said the “spoiler effect” causes third parties to underperform in comparison to Republicans and Democrats in elections.
According to Reckendorf, it’s difficult for a third-party candidate to win because voters are afraid that voting for their first choice will take away votes from their second choice, giving room for their least preferred candidate to win the race.
“If a Libertarian candidate were to win an election, it'd probably be by infiltrating the GOP primaries and winning a plurality among a large group of candidates,” Reckendorf said. “Thus, becoming the Republican Party's nominee whether they like it or not -- it's what I call the "Trojan Horse" strategy of electoral politics,” Reckendorf said.
Hyra is not the first candidate in Virginia gubernatorial history to make a third-party run for governor. Just four years ago, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis received 6.5 percent of the vote.
Even though he said he wanted to win the election, Hyra said his family and career remained his top priorities.
“I think everybody knew, going into it, what my situation was,” Hyra said. “So I just give as much as I can to the campaign and that, you know, comes last.”
By Alexandra Sosik and Annie Gallo (Special to WTVR.com)
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story.