James Carr believes the stars have finally aligned for the Libertarian Party to prove that it can win elections in Virginia.
He thinks that’s especially true in the 7th Congressional District, where he is running for the seat held until recently by former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“We are very serious that this could be the year that we put a Libertarian in office, in this district in particular,” Carr, 37, said during an interview on the back porch of his home in rural Fluvanna County.
History, however, is not on Carr’s side. Third-party candidates have never fared too well in the 7th District, which has been firmly in Republican hands for more than four decades.
“Third-party candidates occasionally run campaigns there, but they have never affected the outcome,” said Daniel Palazzolo, a political science professor at the University of Richmond.
For example, in 2010, tea party conservative Floyd C. Bayne mounted an independent campaign against Cantor. He got 6.5 percent of the vote. “That is probably the high-water mark for a third-party candidate here,” Palazzolo said.
(Third-party candidates in the 7th District have occasionally reached higher percentages when Democrats did not field a nominee.)
Carr, manager of business operations systems at a small community hospital in the Charlottesville area, faces an uphill battle against Democrat Jack Trammell, a sociology professor and farmer from Louisa County, and Republican Dave Brat, an economics professor from Henrico County, who defeated Cantor in a GOP primary in June.
Brat’s victory sent shock waves through the nation’s political landscape, but it did not come as a surprise to Carr and his campaign staff.
“Anyone who was surprised was not actually talking to the voters in the district,” Carr said. “By mid-April, we realized that many people supported us simply because we were running against Cantor. They were latching on to him as the perfect example of everything that is wrong with Washington.”
With less than seven weeks until the Nov. 4 election, Carr is working to raise his profile among voters in the district.
But also, he’s seeking to raise the profile of Libertarians, who believe in liberty as their principal objective, who seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, and who are generally weary of any form of what they consider federal overreach.
On the issues
Carr says he wants to minimize the powers of the federal government, repeal the Affordable Care Act, expand the workforce by opening the borders to immigrants, allow same-sex couples to marry, and expand capital punishment to include crimes such as sexual assault.
He sees himself as a non-interventionist — but not an isolationist — who wants to withdraw from global conflicts including in Iraq and Syria and start building positive relationships with other nations instead of “dictating them what to do.”
While Carr says he has always viewed himself as an independent with libertarian views, he didn’t join the party until this year. “The idea of assigning myself to a party … I wasn’t sure if I wanted to follow that kind of structure,” he said.
Then he watched Robert C. Sarvis, a former software engineer and attorney from Northern Virginia, stir up last year’s gubernatorial race by breaking the 6 percent mark as a Libertarian candidate.
Sarvis is now the party’s candidate for U.S. Senate, running against Sen. Mark R. Warner, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican Ed Gillespie.
“Rob put Libertarians back on the map, especially here in Virginia,” Carr said. “When we met, he said, ‘You’re clearly a Libertarian, even if you don’t have the party marking beside your name.’ Rob told me how the party operates, and I really appreciated that. So I joined and became their candidate for the 7th District.”
Sarvis said Thursday that Carr is the kind of person needed in Congress right now.
“James has worked hard his whole life, he has no interest in partisanship or self-promotion, no loyalties to special interests. He just brings common sense and wisdom to challenge a two-party system that sorely lacks both,” Sarvis said.
Virginia Libertarians say they are seeing increasing support for their ideas.
“We do not only have a U.S. Senate candidate this year in Robert Sarvis, but seven U.S. House candidates, which is a record number for the LPVA,” said party Chairman Bill Redpath.
“Six of our seven House candidates are first-time candidates for public office, and James is among them. He is bringing tremendous energy and organization to his campaign in what has turned out to be a more interesting general election race than initially predicted,” Redpath said.
Carr’s candidacy melds a somewhat unusual background for a congressional hopeful to an already unconventional party platform.
While studying finance at the College of William and Mary, Carr stumbled into a brief career in the music business after meeting several members of the rock band Buzby at a Williamsburg bar. He befriended them — and soon began traveling with them.
“I started doing merchandising, and it morphed into being the road manager,” Carr said. After two years, the band split up.
“They had some personality differences,” Carr said. “I had to get a real job.”
Carr worked as a bartender and caterer and did odd jobs, until he graduated and launched his career as a financial analyst, then with Northrop Grumman.
He has been married to his wife, Aimee, for seven years. The couple have three children: son Declan, 4, and twin daughters Irelyn and Chesnee, 2.
At their remote home outside the small town of Troy, Carr enjoys archery and working on old motorcycles, vintage Hondas in particular.
Working in the health care industry has helped him understand the system, Carr said. His professional experience and his childhood memories — he never had health insurance growing up — coupled with Libertarian free-market ideas, led him to conclude that a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s health care system is necessary.
First and foremost, he said, this means a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Carr envisions a health care system that some might view as daring, if not radical, because it would split two essential services that are now widely considered inseparable.
“The idea that health insurance is required for health care is something I fundamentally disagree with,” he said. “Before World War II, very few people actually had health insurance. It wasn’t a normal household expense.”
Instead, doctors should work out solutions with their patients, without the government being in the way, Carr said.
“A lot of people believe that health insurance is being an equivalent to health care. But they are not. If you have some type of catastrophic illness, there are all sorts of charitable programs, things people have willingly contributed to, not mandated by the government and taken from them,” he said.
Carr knows that the road to such a free-market approach would be long and rocky. One could begin, he said, by allowing insurance providers to offer plans across state lines — something that most Republicans and even some Democrats would like to see.
“We need to move things from the federal level to a state level, local level and, ultimately, to an individual level,” he said.
Furthermore, Carr wants to eliminate all functions of the federal government that were not established in the U.S. Constitution, beginning with the Department of Education.
“Our Constitution is one of the most intelligently crafted documents because it was set at a time that had a very different perspective, but the people who built that understood the need of the country to be able to develop,” Carr said.
“So they added this ability to put amendments on. If government wants to take on a new function, there should be a constitutional amendment, backed by a supermajority of people.”
While many conservatives would agree with Carr’s views of getting the federal government out of health care, education and other services, they might be shocked by his agenda for immigration reform.
Like Sarvis, who favors allowing 5 million immigrants to enter the country legally each year, Carr wants to lift limitations on legal immigration.
“I have zero limit on the number of immigrants,” he said. “I am a free-market economy proponent, and I include the labor market. There are jobs, especially in the agricultural industry, that rely on these immigrants.
“If we open these borders, you are going to see manufacturing coming back to the U.S. again,” Carr said.
“We have this prohibitive process toward bringing in immigrants who would love to work, a process that encourages illegal immigration,” Carr said.
“The 12 million illegal immigrants who are currently in the U.S. contribute about $56 billion to local economies through their purchases. Outside from any tax, they are buying and contributing.”
Deporting these immigrants would “cripple a lot of local economies,” Carr said.
Carr’s position is in stark contrast to that of Brat, who is an advocate for free-market capitalism but is tough on illegal immigration.
“People like my Republican opponent see illegal immigration as a threat,” Carr said. “I see it as an opportunity.”
As a Libertarian, Carr knows that the GOP views him as an unwelcome distraction. But he said his message resonates with Republican voters in the 7th District.
“What we found, since (Brat’s primary victory), is that the number of people who voted for Brat to get Cantor out is increasing,” he said.
“These people now don’t want to vote for him because he is further extremist, he’s worse than Cantor because he is further going to polarize the party.”
Brat’s camp responds
Brat spokesman Brian Gottstein disputes Carr’s claims.
“Dave Brat wants to stop Congress’ out-of-control spending, repeal Obamacare, and reduce the ridiculous tax and regulatory burdens on businesses and families that are killing this economy and holding back new job creation,” Gottstein said in an email.
“That’s what the people of the 7th District want. That’s mainstream. If Carr would spend more time getting out and talking to more people and less time sniping about his opponents to get attention, maybe he’d know that,” Gottstein said.
Democrat Trammell, not surprisingly, welcomes Carr’s bid.
“One of the interesting things about this race is the positioning of who is the real Libertarian,” Trammell said. “While Dave Brat ran his primary as an outsider, third-party candidate, in my estimation, James Carr is the true Libertarian,” Trammell said.
The University of Richmond’s Palazzolo said Carr may be more of a threat to Brat’s campaign than to Trammell’s.
“In this campaign, James Carr’s positions on most issues are closer to Dave Brat,” he said.
But Carr lacks the resources — specifically money, organization and volunteers — to present a strong challenge for the Republican, who most political analysts believe will win the race, Palazzolo said.
An artificial divide?
Carr said it makes him angry that some have written him off.
“How many analysts correctly predicted that Cantor was going to lose? I have a real problem with a lot of those political analysts,” he said.
“They are looking at data, and data over a long period of time can be quite accurate. But we are seeing a fundamental change in the way voters make their decisions and in what voters expect from politicians. We have become complacent for so long,” Carr said.
Carr said he believes mainstream Virginians identify more with Libertarian thought than with either of the two major parties.
“If you look at where the majority fall on specific issues, more people are in line with Libertarian positions than with the other two parties,” Carr said.
“The problem is that people have been convinced for so long that you only have the two options. It’s an artificial divide.”