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Third-party conservative Virgil Goode could derail Romney in Virginia

Virgil Goode (Getty Images)

The Ralph Nader of 2012 could be a slow-talking, 65-year-old former congressman from Virginia whose top issue is putting a stop to all immigration.

Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode has the potential to upend the presidential race by stealing votes from Republican Mitt Romney in Virginia, a state the former Massachusetts governor desperately needs to win in order to capture the White House. Goode represented Southern Virginia in the state Senate for years as a conservative Democrat before a 12-year stint in Congress as a Democrat-turned-independent-turned Republican.

"If the Republican Party says we need to make a U-turn on our position on immigration and we're going to get rid of super-PACs ... I'll be glad," Goode said in an interview Friday at the National Press Club.

Goode's campaign has not gained national traction, and his party has raised just $200,000 to date, with $65,000 coming from Goode. He's on just 26 state ballots and is eligible as a write-in candidate in a few more. But he needs just a handful of support in Virginia to wreak havoc on the race.

"Goode will get a relatively small number of votes. I'm talking about 25,000 in the whole state and most of them concentrated on the North Carolina border," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "But I spent a month in Florida in 2000 [when] 537 votes produced a presidency in a state that had millions of votes tallied. Nader made the difference."

A Public Policy Polling survey from last week put Goode's support at 1 percent, behind Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Republicans were concerned enough about Goode's candidacy that they unsuccessfully challenged his eligibility.

Goode sees the race as an opportunity to bring light to the Constitution Party's causes. He wants a moratorium on immigration and would keep the children of illegal immigrants from attending public schools and earning birthright citizenship.

Least of his worries is the effect on Romney, whom Goode sees as just as flawed as President Obama.

"If it creates a better focus on those issues, great," Goode said.