Virgil Goode was a Democrat, an independent and a Republican before being nominated as the Constitution Party's nominee for president. Come November, he could be wearing a different label: spoiler.
Goode is mounting a campaign built mainly on strident opposition to illegal immigration and a blend of social and fiscal conservative positions and sees little distinction between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
"The future of the country is at stake. If you go like you are, we are going to slide downhill at a more rapid pace," Goode, a six-term former congressman from southern Virginia, said Sunday in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "We will be in a continual drift towards more government involvement in all aspects of our lives, and you will see a more socialistic approach, if you will, to most problems."
Goode will be in the Romney stronghold of Utah this week, speaking in Bountiful as part of a string of public appearances and fundraisers during a cross-country trek.
But it's actually Goode's home state of Virginia where he could give the Romney campaign migraines.
A recent poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, said that if Goode qualifies for the ballot in Virginia, he could draw 9 percent of the vote, nearly all of it coming from Romney supporters.
It could be devastating to the Romney campaign in a battleground state with 13 electoral votes that Romney will likely need in his column if he is to win the White House.
Goode said he plans to win Virginia, not be a spoiler for Romney. But he isn't concerned about denying Romney the state because, as Goode sees it, Romney could actually be worse on immigration than Obama.
Goode said he's convinced Romney would be soft on illegal immigration and could persuade Republicans to agree to pro-amnesty policies, where the GOP would fight Obama.
"Governor Romney, he likes to be politically correct and take the politically convenient position," Goode said. "Someone tough on this issue is going to have to slug it out and get their nose bloodied. I don't think he has the stomach for doing that."
Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia who has known Goode for four decades, said Goode poses a real problem for Romney's campaign.
"If Virgil gets on the ballot, yes, he could be a mortal threat to Romney, assuming the contest is close in Virginia," said Sabato, although he doesn't think Goode will get anywhere near 9 percent of the vote.
"We all had a good laugh about that," said Sabato, who suspects Goode would be lucky to get 2 percent.
"Whatever Goode gets, most of his votes will be out of Romney's column. Most of the rest will come from people who wouldn't have voted otherwise. And yes, a few will come from Obama," Sabato said. "Republicans are worried about it."
Goode, 65, was originally elected to the Virginia Assembly and then to Congress as a Democrat. At the time, he said, they were the more conservative party in the state, but after years of bucking his party on gay and lesbian issues, gun issues, immigration and others, he eventually left the party, running as an independent in 2000.
Running as a Republican, he narrowly lost his re-election bid in 2008. Earlier this year, he accepted the presidential nomination of the Constitution Party because, Goode said, it was the only party that supported Arizona's tough immigration enforcement law, and it's an issue he said must be addressed.
"It will be a short time before those who are coming into the country illegally will run the country," Goode said.
Goode said the U.S. should stop the flow of immigrants legal or illegal into the country almost entirely until U.S. unemployment falls below 5 percent.
"When you don't have enough jobs to go around, why do you bring in more people?" he asks.
He would support cutting off any social services to people who couldn't prove their citizenship, refuse "birthright citizenship" to the U.S.-born children of people in the country illegally and deny schooling to anyone who couldn't prove his or her legal status. He also wants English designated as the official U.S. language.
He steadfastly opposes abortion and criticizes Romney for not doing more to stand up to same-sex marriage when he was governor of Massachusetts and not taking the lead in supporting the fast-food restaurant Chick-fil-A last week when conservatives rallied to support the chain's owner, who came under fire for his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage.
Goode is also seeking to reform the political system, refusing to accept any campaign contribution over $200 and promising to fight for term limits of no more than 12 years if he is elected.
He acknowledges a win in November will be difficult, since he estimates that he will only appear on the ballot in somewhere between 35 and 40 states. But if he can run strong in the states where he does make the ballot, he said he conceivably could pull out an electoral-college victory.
Virgil Goode event
P Former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party's candidate for president, will hold a town hall meeting at the Bountiful City Chamber Office, 790 S. 100 East, in Bountiful at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The event is free and open to the public.