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Wife increases pressure on Cuccinelli, McAuliffe to debate Sarvis

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Students from the project reported the following story.

RICHMOND, Va. – After releasing an emotional video asking for her husband to be included in the gubernatorial debate this week, Dr. Astrid Sarvis said she remains hopeful about her husband’s chances.

“I’m very optimistic. I think that it’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take more than just us,” Sarvis said in an interview with VCU’s “iPadJournos” project at a campaign event in Midlothian on Saturday. Her YouTube video was published on Thursday and has already been viewed almost 5,000 times.

Astrid Sarvis filmed the video about a week after her husband, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, received the news that he did not meet the 10 percent polling average that would have qualified him to debate with Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the final debate.

“I felt a lot of emotions at once. I was angry, I was sad. The first thing I asked Rob was, ‘What can you do? There has to be something you can do,’” Astrid Sarvis said.

“We felt like once you’re on the ballot, you’ve proven that you’re serious about running for governor and should therefore be treated like the other two candidates,” she said.

While she thinks the two major party candidates will still say no to including her husband, she added that “we’re moving in the right direction, but we’ll see if it’s quick enough that he’ll actually be in the debate.”

WDBJ 7, the Roanoke television station hosting the debate, suggested on Saturday that there is a possibility that Robert Sarvis could be included due to public backlash it received over his exclusion.

The station is leaving it to Cuccinelli and McAuliffe to agree whether or not Robert Sarvis should be invited to Thursday’s debate.

“Basically they’re punting,” Astrid Sarvis said of the station’s decision. The host of the debate should not let the other two candidates decide, she said.

A decision by Cuccinelli and McAuliffe after the latest developments was still pending on Sunday morning.

Robert Sarvis commended his wife’s actions by saying, “It was really nice to see that she was so passionate about it that she was willing to make that video. I think of her as my champion.” He thinks his exclusion from the debate was inappropriate.

“The host basically said that they’re open to it and put the onus on the other campaigns, so who knows what they’re going to decide. We’re not really holding out much hope that they’re going to do the right thing,” he said.

Robert Sarvis didn’t think there was much point in watching the debate, since voters already know what the two major candidates will say.

“If I’m there, it’s going to be less negative, it’s going to be more substantive,” he said. “And it’s just going to be a totally different dynamic.”

He also criticized the Oct. 10 deadline that was put in place by the debate’s hosts in order to give each candidate enough time to prepare.

“I’m not really sure why they needed that much time to prepare,” Sarvis said. “I certainly don’t need that amount of time, and they could decide the day of the debate to include me and I would happily participate and do quite well, I’m sure.”

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, said one of the campaigns may have pushed harder for Sarvis’s exclusion.

“In particular, Cuccinelli was probably pressuring the host to not include Sarvis, because Sarvis is hurting Cuccinelli a little more than McAuliffe,” Skelley said.

Skelley added that to his knowledge the last time a third-party candidate from Virginia participated in a debate was Marshall Coleman in 1994. Coleman ran as an independent for U.S. Senate.

Sarvis’s exclusion is unfortunate, Skelley said. “Obviously Sarvis may actually do better than any third-party candidate has done in Virginia in a very long time, at least in a gubernatorial election,” he said.

Dexter Brown, a supporter of Sarvis, said he was disappointed when he heard Sarvis was going to be excluded from the debate.

“Rob Sarvis has proved he has very legitimate arguments, very cogent policies, and I’m very disappointed that he’s not going to be able to explain those to the citizens of Virginia during a debate,” he said.

Greg Ownby, who was also at the campaign event with Robert and Astrid Sarvis in Midlothian on Saturday, said that he refuses to watch the debate unless Sarvis is included. Ownby was “furious” that the television station decided that Sarvis didn’t meet the 10 percent mark.

“That’s close enough for a third party, especially this election, when so many people seem to be just not satisfied with two major candidates. Why not have him up there, you know?” he said.

Lee Burnette, who said that he is voting for a third-party candidate for the first time, echoed Brown’s sentiments.

“I think it’s kind of sad that the two candidates can dictate who gets to be in the debate,” said Burnette. “I think we should just allow anyone that’s a legitimate candidate to debate.”

Kelly Zuber, the news director for WDBJ, said in a written statement that the rules of the debate were negotiated by the two major candidates. “WDBJ originally recommended that the door be opened and a reasonable threshold be set for Mr. Sarvis to participate. I believe no other debate organizers had even given him that opportunity,” she wrote. “Once the agreements were signed, WDBJ7 was bound to the rules or risked losing the opportunity for the voters of Virginia to hear any of the office seekers debate the issues.”

By Katherine Johnson and Whitney Torres (Special to WTVR.com)

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.