Virginia primary: Was it so hard for Perry and Gingrich to get on the ballot?

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry failed to collect enough signatures to get on the primary ballot in Virginia. Yes, the state has tough rules, but other candidates have managed to register.

Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP
Newt Gingrich speaks during a Virginia GOP fundraiser in Henrico, Va., Thursday. Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich failed to collect enough signatures in Virginia to get their names put on the ballot.

At first blush, the failure of Republican presidential contenders Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry to get on the primary ballot in Virginia suggests structural failures for both campaigns, but it also sheds light on the state’s primary ballot requirements, which are the most stringent in the nation.

On Saturday, the Republican Party of Virginia issued tweets that said neither former House Speaker Gingrich nor Texas Governor Perry had obtained the 10,000 valid signatures required to get on the party’s March 6 primary ballot.

The Gingrich campaign responded at first by saying it would launch a write-in campaign before learning that it is not allowed for presidential primaries in the state. National Campaign Director Michael Krull promised via Facebook on Saturday that the campaign “will make all other deadlines” and said it “will continue to learn and grow.”

Mr. Krull also compared the situation to Pearl Harbor, saying: “we have experienced an unexpected setback, but we will regroup and refocus with increased determination, commitment and positive action.”

The roadblock presents the other Republican candidates an opportunity to show both campaigns are “foolish and disorganized,” says Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.

“It speaks volumes to me about the particular organizational skills of the candidates,” Mr. Tobias told the Los Angeles Times Saturday. “It’s hard for me to understand how they could miss this opportunity.”

Indeed, at a rally held last week in Arlington, Va., Gingrich admitted his campaign was not prepared for his recent surge in popularity in the polls.

“We weren’t ready for it yet because we don’t have the structure and we don’t have the money to compete at that level, so we had to scramble a little bit,” Gingrich said.

In fact, Gingrich is leading among Virginia Republicans, according to a recent survey by Quinnipiac University, taken Dec. 13-19. Among the 489 registered Republican voters, 30 percent said they were planning to vote for Gingrich, with 25 percent for Romney, 9 percent for Paul and 6 percent for Perry.

Not getting on the Virginia ballot is particularly embarrassing for Gingrich, considering it is now his home state. Gingrich, who was born in Pennsylvania and served two decades in Congress as a representative from Georgia, now resides in McLean.

However, most political analysts agree that all candidates face the toughest hurdles in Virginia, due to unusually difficult primary rules for candidates of both parties. To avert armies of volunteer petitioners invading the state, Virginia requires that all those gathering signatures be state residents. Additionally, at least 400 signatures must come from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, said that despite the rigorous requirements, prior candidates for president, governor, and senator from both parties successfully filed their petitions.

“The system has been in place for a long time and the ballot requirements are well known,” Mr. Martin told the Richmond Times-Dispatch Monday.

Even if the outcry against the rules gains traction, it is unlikely that the state legislature, which convenes Jan. 11, will force a change this late in the game. The reason: Eight candidates are currently vying for the seat of retiring state Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat. The assumption is that the June 12 primary date will be a race between frontrunners Timothy Kaine, a Democrat, and George Allen, a Republican and that their allies in the statehouse will not want their chances to win slimmed by broadening the race to include outside candidates.

Only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and US Rep. Ron Paul qualified to get on the Virginia ballot. Mr. Romney’s campaign submitted over 16,000 signatures while Representative Paul’s campaign submitted over 14,000.

By contrast, the campaigns for Gingrich and Perry submitted about 11,000 signatures each by Thursday’s deadline, but in the subsequent vetting by Republican officials, too many of them were thrown out.

The campaigns for US Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman each failed to submit signatures, automatically disqualifying them from getting on the March ballot.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he predicts Romney will win the majority of the state’s 49 delegates to the Republican National Convention. The Gingrich and Perry ballot mishap “has made the Virginia primary completely irrelevant,” Mr. Sabato said. 

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