If Mitt Romney loses Virginia, Virgil Goode says it won't be his fault -- and, should Goode's unlikely presidential bid siphon enough votes to hand the commonwealth to President Obama, the state's former GOP congressman doesn't seem too worried about it anyway.
"The assumption that they're all from Romney is incorrect," Goode said of the people who might vote for him. "The guy that runs the service station right near my house said, 'Virgil, if you get on the ballot, I'm going to vote for you, and that'll take a vote away from Obama' ...
"A lot of disgruntled Democrats that don't like Obama -- old-line Democrats, some of them even conservative -- will never vote for a Republican ticket, but they will vote for me as an independent," he said.
An immigration hard-liner and Obama birth-certificate skeptic, Goode has been out of Congress since 2009, but suddenly he's a busy man.
Running for president as the Constitution Party's nominee, last week Goode qualified for the ballot in Virginia, despite a petition-fraud investigation by the Republican state attorney general.
On Tuesday, Goode traveled from his home base in southern Virginia, which he represented in Congress for 12 years -- first as a Democrat, then as an independent, then as a Republican -- to New York City, where he was scheduled to film two national TV interviews.
"I'm not sure," Goode said of the exact number of states where his name will appear on ballots. Goode has qualified in 25 to 30 states, he said, and may appear in 40.
"Nebraska's up in the air, Alabama, we just turned in. Rhode Island we just turned in," he said.
The main plank in Goode's campaign platform is less immigration, legal or illegal.
"The key factor is we need to be focusing on the job issue in a way that's different from what Obama and Romney are doing," he said. "I'm the only candidate in the field, and the Constitution Party is the only party that truly recognizes that we need to preserve jobs for American citizens first.
"I have called for a near moratorium on green-card admissions until unemployment is under 5 percent," he said.
Goode was known in Congress as an immigration hard-liner, particularly, upon his exit, for a letter he sent criticizing Rep. Keith Ellison's use of the Quran during his ceremonial swearing-in to Congress.
"The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran," Goode wrote of the newly elected congressman in 2007.
The letter earned him widespread condemnation, and it preceded his re-election loss in 2008. Goode stood by it then, and he stands by it now.
"What irritated CAIR and the Muslim groups wasn't what I said about religion," Goode said. "I think having so much immigration is a negative for the United States. ... I'm sure the Muslim groups like diversity visas. So many come in -- it's just a lottery system, you can jump to the head of the line with diversity visas."
Nor does he like what he's heard from Romney or Obama on immigration.
"Romney says, 'I love immigration,'" Goode said. "And you have Obama -- he's for more immigration, not less -- and I would seal the borders and end the anchor-baby situation. In Congress, I was always a co-sponsor of the bill that ended automatic birthright citizenship."
Goode's candidacy could have significant consequences, threatening to sink Mitt Romney in Virginia, if the election is close enough there. And in a tight national race, Virginia figures to have enough electoral votes to swing things nationally.
Romney will need every bit of momentum he can get in Virginia. The last major pollster to survey Virginia, CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac, found Obama ahead by 4 percentage points in early August. That poll did not include Goode.
Given his 12-year career represening southern/central Virginia in the House, and his 24 years in the Virginia state Senate before that, Goode would appear to have a conservative base on his home turf.
Even with just a few thousand votes, under the right circumstances Goode's Constitution Party candidacy could become the first third-party bid to weigh on a national scale since 2000, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader collected 97,488 votes in Florida -- the state that handed George W. Bush the presidency by only 37 votes.
Virginia's 13 Electoral College votes aren't nothing: if Obama wins Virginia and a larger swing state like Ohio or Florida, Romney will need to win virtually every other swing state in play.
Goode's natural base might be especially swayable. Like other Southern states, Virginia has its share of conservatives, and evangelicals make up 31 percent of its population, according to the Pew Research Center. At times, Romney failed to win over both groups during his race for the nomination.
Goode's territory spans a few areas where Romney struggled in his primary against Ron Paul, the only other GOP candidate on the ballot after Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and others failed to meet the state's unusually difficult barriers. Ron Paul won seven counties in central and southwestern Virginia on March 6.
Goode said he doesn't know how many votes he can get in Virginia; he speaks optimistically, citing other states where independents outnumber registered Republicans and Democrats.
Lanky and bent, Goode travels in khakis and a blazer, with a University of Virginia tie (his law school alma matter), and he issues loose-border exhortations with a wry flicker of recognition and purpose.
He has held no fundraisers: "Fundraisers take a tremendous amount of time, a lot of work -- now I'm not saying we won't do any at all, we may do one or two fundraisers," he said. His campaign runs with four paid staffers, plus volunteers.
As a little-known candidate from a non-major party, he has almost no chance of becoming president. So what's the point?
"I hope before Election Day, American citizens will wake up and say, 'Look, we are fed up with the Democrat Obama and the Republican Romney and the super PACS that are controlling this election," Goode said.
A three-time party switcher, Goode is among a small handful to serve in the House as an independent in the last decade. As former conservative, Southern Democrat, he is a vestige of an almost extinct breed.
Goode questions Obama's birth certificate, but the matter doesn't seem pressing to him: "I want to see the original birth certificate, and then I could give you my judgment," he said.
He says he has no opinion on whether Obama is a Christian or a Muslim.
"Well, he said he is [Christian]," Goode said, after a long pause, noting that anybody, in his opinion, is free to adhere to any religion. (Goode himself is a Baptist.)
Asked whether he would be comfortable with a Mormon president, Goode said, "Well, that's up to the citizens of the United States ... his positions [on immigration] make me uncomfortable."
Goode does not subscribe to the Constitution Party's entire platform, either. It calls for the repeal of direct senatorial elections, an end to congressional pensions, no more state-sponsored lotteries, abolishment of the Civil Service system, no women in the military, no domestic federal aid to states (a term that would seem to encompass programs like Medicare and Medicaid), no federal education subsidies, the end of the Department of Education, the phasing out of Social Security, and the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service along with all income, payroll, and estate taxes.
Asked about this last bit, Goode said: "There has to be something," suggesting that if enough excise and sales taxes could be collected, the IRS could all but disappear.
"I'm for simple and fair," he said.