Unlike Sarvis, though, Coleman had political pedigree and bona fide institutional support: then-Sen. John Warner backed Coleman that year over the flame-throwing Republican nominee, Oliver North. The Democratic incumbent, Chuck Robb, eked out a three-point win that year.
A more recent example of third-party noise-making came in the 2005 governor's race, when Russ Potts, a GOP state senator who ran as an independent, aired a memorable statewide television ad featuring people loudly banging on pots as they chanted "We want Potts!"
Despite polling as high as 9% that year, Potts only garnered 2% in the end, as Democrat Tim Kaine edged out Republican Jerry Kilgore to win the governorship.
Even if Sarvis tumbles from his current standing and only captures a small slice of the vote on Election Day, Republicans fear that most of that support will come straight out of Cuccinelli's back pocket, especially in what's expected to be a low turnout election.
"Nearly all of his vote will come from people right of center who feel obligated to vote but can't support Cuccinelli because he is too far to the right, or they fear what he would be like as governor and can't vote for McAuliffe because he's a Democrat," observed one well-connected Richmond Republican who is not directly involved in the race.
Cuccinelli faces gender gap
Cuccinelli is in trouble with or without a third party candidate, due in large part to a startling gender gap that emerged this summer after free-spending Democrats began hammering the Republican on women's health issues.
Women favor McAuliffe over Cuccinelli by an enormous 24-point margin, and even without Sarvis in the race, the Post poll showed McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli by a five-point margin, 49-44.
But Sarvis isn't going anywhere, and his rising poll numbers are making an uphill fight for Cuccinelli that much steeper.
Sarvis' most obvious challenge is exposure. A large majority of Virginia voters still have no clue who he is or what he stands for, a challenge that wasn't made easier by his exclusion from a debate Wednesday night sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
In response, Sarvis tapped into his meager campaign budget -- he reported having only $19,109 in the bank at the end of August -- to run a TV ad during the debate attacking McAuliffe's "cronyism" and Cuccinelli's "narrow-minded social agenda."
The ad starred his two children and his African-American wife, Astrid, whom he met in a Mississippi book store when he spied her reading "The Da Vinci Code" and told her he had recently seen the movie.
John Vaught LaBeaume, a Sarvis adviser, said the campaign has been in touch with the organizers of the third and final debate in Roanoke in late October, and have received "encouraging" signals about being included.
Until then, Sarvis said he's content to meet voters by driving around the commonwealth in his van, listening to Pink Floyd, as the other campaigns savage each other on the airwaves.
"If they keep destroying each other with negative ads that's fine with us," he said drily.