POWHATAN, Va. Virgil Goode has absolutely no chance of winning the presidency. But here in his home state, his quixotic quest for the White House as the Constitution Party candidate could peel votes away from Mitt Romney, and that is making some Republicans nervous.
"Why would you do this?" Susan Ferreri, a small-business owner, asked Goode recently when he dropped by an Italian restaurant in this Richmond suburb to hand out leaflets and rustle up votes.
"I'm against Obama, and I will go with Romney, and I just really hope you don't upset it."
Goode, 66, a former congressman who is a staunch opponent of immigration and is a fiscal and social conservative, politely defended himself and moved on.
"I have heard that argument before," he said later in his distinctive Southern drawl.
Indeed he has. In many states, Republicans have worked to suppress Goode's candidacy. He is on the ballot in 26 states and is running as a write-in candidate in an additional 14. Republicans succeeded in blocking him in Pennsylvania; Goode says that it would have cost him $100,000 to fight to have his name included and that he did not have the money.
But the efforts failed here in the swing state of Virginia, where President Barack Obama and Romney are running neck and neck in the battle for 13 electoral votes. In the latest Fox News poll in Virginia, Goode is backed by 1 percent of likely voters.
Silver-haired and lanky, Goode has roots as a country lawyer in the bucolic southwestern town of Rocky Mount, where he is a household name and has a base of regional support.
"The problem for Romney is he is culturally so opposite from most voters in Southside Virginia that there is an area for Virgil Goode to win votes," said David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "In 2008, there were close to 40,000 votes cast for third-party candidates in Virginia. What if Virgil Goode took 25,000 votes? That could be a potential difference maker."
The Romney campaign says it is not worried.
"This election is a very clear choice between two candidates," said Rich Beeson, Romney's political director. "We are running a campaign that will ensure Mitt Romney wins regardless of who is in the race."
But Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, is more cautious. "I don't think his candidacy is helpful," Davis said of Goode.
To say Goode is running his campaign on a shoestring would be an understatement. He does not take money from political action committees and refuses all donations over $200. So far, he has spent about $200,000 including, he said, $65,000 to $70,000 of his own money.
He has been crisscrossing the country in a blue Honda Civic with 140,000 miles on it and a pile of blue and white "Goode for President" signs stuffed in the trunk. He keeps a shower caddy filled with toiletries on the floor near the front passenger seat. In the back seat, there is a box of Raisin Bran "In case I need breakfast," Goode said.
His sister answers the phones, and his wife, Lucy, keeps the books. He has a driver, a friend named Danny Turner. But there is no press secretary; Goode returns calls from reporters himself.
His platform is fairly simple. His jobs plan is to end all illegal immigration and legal immigration, too, until the American unemployment rate drops below 5 percent. He also favors ending automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants and would not allow them to attend public schools.
He also says he would "end the stranglehold of super PACs on politics," drastically reduce regulation on businesses and balance the budget immediately, though he does not say how. He is against abortion and same-sex marriage. If elected, Goode says, he would serve only one term.
Goode, who was elected to Congress in 1996 but lost his seat in 2008, began his career as a Democrat but infuriated the party by voting to impeach President Bill Clinton. Then he was an independent and later a Republican; in 2010, he joined the Constitution Party, which advocates a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
In 2006, he offended many of his colleagues and constituents by attacking Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, for taking the oath of office with his hand on a Quran. Goode's remarks helped in his losing his seat, said Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
But here in Powhatan, Goode found at least one supporter: Rachel Bondurant, 69, who grew up near Rocky Mount. He slipped a campaign flier on the table where she was dining.
"I don't like who else is running," she said. "I like him."