The fact that Newt Gingrich is leading the polls in the Virginia Republican Primary but didn’t gather enough signatures to get on the ballot sort of sums up his presidential campaign so far in a nutshell.
But Gingrich wasn’t the only candidate who failed to make the ballot. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose campaign thus far had seemed to be deficient in brainpower, charisma and debating skills, but not in money or organizational expertise, also failed to turn in enough signatures to qualify.
Michele Bachmann, John Huntsman and Rick Santorum didn’t bother to turn in any signatures. Not much of a surprise for the latter two. They’ve just been hanging around. Neither has gotten a bump as the Republican’s “flavor of the month” to be the Not-Mitt Romney candidate. Hell, even Donald Trump got a bump and he never got in.
In fact, only Romney and septuagenarian Libertarian Ron Paul made the ballot. The first is the definition of the smooth, well organized, Establishment Republican. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling heads his campaign in Virginia and there wasn’t much chance he wouldn’t get the necessary signatures. The second is a cult figure who has never won much besides straw polls, but his Paulistas can manage a signature gathering campaign.
While Gingrich and, to a lesser extent, Perry and Bachmann have been whining about how tough Virginia’s ballot access laws are — they require 10,000 signatures, including 400 from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts — the fact is everyone knew what the rules were from the jump.
And how hard can it be? In 2008 Democratic candidates like Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, neither of whom were exactly at the crest of a rising tide, made it onto Virginia’s ballot.
They had help though. The Democratic Party of Virginia gathered signatures for all of the candidates at various events. The Republican Party of Virginia didn’t make that kind of effort this year. They aren’t required to, of course, but it might have helped.
Republican incompetency has taken a good deal of fun out of what could have been a very exciting year in politics here.
Because, if all the candidates — of at least the ones with some following (sorry Huntsman and Santorum) — had made it on to the ballot, the Virginia Republican Primary might have been very important.
Because, if Romney has some early defeats — and poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina suggest that he might — Virginia, where the Lt. Gov. Bolling chairs his campaign, might have been the state where Romney rallied and took control of the race. Virginia played that role for George W. Bush in 2000 and John McCain in 2008.
It can’t play that role this time because, with only the quirky Paul n opposition, nobody will pay much attention to Virginia. The only thing of consequence that could happen here now is an embarrassing Romney defeat. That’s unlikely. But remember Paul’s cultists are going to vote no matter how hopeless the situation looks. And Virginia is an open primary state and, with an incumbent Democratic president in office, Virginia Democrats really don’t have anything better to do on Primary Day than go out and vote for Paul in an attempt to humiliate the Republican front-runner.
And, through the rise and inevitable fall of each “Anti-Mitt” candidate, Bachmann and Perry and Herman Caine and Gingrich and maybe even Paul, Romney has been unable to seal the deal with more than 25 to 30% of Republican primary voters.
Gingrich put on a brave front and promised a write-in campaign. Until someone told him Virginia doesn’t allow write-ins in a primary. Then, there was talk of legislation in the General Assembly to change that.
I doubt that will happen for three reasons:
1. It would require emergency legislation that would require the consent of a super-majority of the General Assembly. Democrats — and Republicans supporting Romney or Paul — don’t have any reason to do Gingrich and company any favors.
2. In the unlikely event it passed the General Assembly, Gov. McDonnell would have to sign it. I’m pretty sure Bolling would take up permanent residence in the governor’s outer office to make sure that didn’t happen.
3. There’s a reason that Virginia has a rule against write-ins in primaries. We’re an open primary state, with no registration by party. Suppose we allowed write-in votes next year. Suppose 400,000 Republicans show up and 40% of them write in Gingrich and Romney gets 30% of the vote and Paul gets 15% and Perry gets 10% and Bachmann gets 5%. Then suppose 200,000 Democrats, who don’t have anything better to do that day, show up and all of them vote for Barack Obama. Obama wins the Virginia Republican Primary.
Is that going to happen? No.
We’re just going to have a barely-noticed contest between Romney and Paul.
And we could have been a contender…if any of the other Republicans were as well-organized as the Dennis Kucinich campaign in 2008.