Virginia's GOP Isn't for Lovers of Newt or Perry

Four of the six leading Republican candidates were given lumps of electoral coal this Christmas season when they failed to gather the signatures necessary to qualify for the Virginia Republican primary held on March 6. This leaves only Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Ron Paul on the Old Dominion’s ballot a few months ahead of the Super Tuesday primary.

Newt Gingrich leads the polls in Virginia, but Michael Krull, his national campaign director, actually compared the “set-back” to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The Gingrich campaign naturally plotted a counter-attack–an aggressive write-in campaign–but that will be of limited success because Virginia law bans write-in votes in primary elections. Not one write-in ballot was counted in 2008.

For now, Gingrich is left to grumble about the “system” of authenticating signatures in the Virginia primary. He may have a point. Candidates are required not only to collect over 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot but have to have at least 400 from each of the state’s eleven congressional districts. Both Perry and Gingrich cleared the first hurdle by at least a thousand signatures, but it appears they may have stumbled on clearing the second. We don’t know this for certain — the Va. GOP hasn’t explained why Gingrich and Perry failed to qualify– but this seems likely.

Gathering enough signatures from enough of the different districts proved too tricky. In at least one district that’s a tall order. Virginia’s 3rd and 8th congressional district, for example, are among the most Democratic in the country, with a PVI score of D+20 and D+16, respectively. Woody Allen may be right when he said 90% of success is just showing up, but it is hard to show up when there is effectively no Republican party in some congressional districts.

Worse yet, Virginia’s House of Delegates complicated matters further when voters may not know which congressional district they live in thanks to an ongoing state-wide fight over redistricting. Virginia Republicans submitted a map in April 2011, but Virginia Democrats seemed insistent on pushing the matter to January 2012 and then to federal court if they don’t enough black–and therefore Democratic–congressional districts. They would sue the state under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and toss the matter of redistricting over to the federal courts.

It’s the prerogative of any state party to set up the rules that govern its primary but it sure seems short-sighted to disqualify two candidates that fulfilled the 10,000 signatures requirement, especially given how much Virginia GOP could benefit from a renewed focus and all that earned media attention on the Old Dominion.The usually reliable red state broke for Obama in 2008, by six points over John McCain. Indeed Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia voted for Obama in 2008, making it the first time since 1964 that the state broke for a Democrat, but these gains were reversed when Attorney General Bob McDonnell crushed Democratic senator Creigh Deeds in the gubernatorial race by seventeen points.

If only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney run in the GOP primary, it’ll mean that the ideas of a resurgent Republican party won’t be discussed in all their permutations about the party activists and loyalists who make up the primaries and the door-to-door campaigners on Election Day. Doesn’t the Virginia Republican Party want to continue being relevant to the national discourse?

Instead it appears we’ll get a match up between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, an outcome that seems likely to break decisively in Romney’s favor. This is good news for Romney, who knows that the longer the race for the GOP’s nomination goes the more likely it is that he’ll lose it. Organization favors him early in the game, but as the number of states voting increases and the race gets progressively more Southern, he’s likely to get into trouble. Romney won only four of seventeen primary contests his last go around in 2008. With Virginia, with sixty delegates available, he’ll be able to argue that if he can be organized enough to win that crucially important state in the primary, he’ll be able to win it in the general.

Organization matters in life, as in primary contests, and the success of the Romney and Paul campaign owes a lot to the discipline and focus with which both camps have pursued their goal of being elected to the nation’s high office. It seems likely that the kind of candidates or campaigns that can master the details of the campaign can master the details necessary to be president.

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