Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has vowed to pursue an aggressive write-in campaign in Virginia after state officials ruled that the former U.S. House speaker failed to garner enough signatures to meet stringent requirements to appear on the state's Republican primary ballot.
The absence of Mr. Gingrich, who lives in Virginia, leaves Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul as the only Republican candidates to qualify in the crucial swing state.
The Gingrich campaign criticized Virginia's primary system, saying that "only a failed system" would disqualify Mr. Gingrich and other candidates.
"Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates," Gingrich campaign director Michael Krull said in a statement. "We will work with the Republican Party of Virginia to pursue an aggressive write-in campaign to make sure that all the voters of Virginia are able to vote for the candidate of their choice."
Mr. Gingrich faces an uphill fight on a write-in effort: According to state law, "No write-in shall be permitted on ballots in primary elections."
"Virginia code prohibits write-ins in primaries. He can't do it," Carl Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond told the Associated Press.
The failure of most of the still-crowded field of GOP candidates to earn a spot on the Virginia ballot illustrates an edge Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Mr. Paul have over their rivals: the experience of having run national campaigns.
Four other candidates — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. — also missed the deadline.
Candidates had until 5 p.m. Thursday to file their presidential petitions and signatures necessary to secure a spot on the ballot. They needed at least 10,000 signatures and 400 from each of Virginia's 11 congressional districts to qualify, but the Republican Party of Virginia, which spent a marathon session Friday validating signatures, recommended submitting at least 15,000 to account for mishaps and errors.
Mr. Paul turned in 14,361 signatures, Mr. Perry turned in 11,911 and Mr. Gingrich had 11,050, according to the state Board of Elections. Mr. Romney's Virginia campaign chairman, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, submitted more than 16,000 signatures Tuesday, and President Obama's campaign delivered over 15,000 earlier this month.
The Democratic Party of Virginia on Friday certified the signatures for Mr. Obama. In a statement, party chairman Brian Moran said he expected the State Board of Elections to cancel the scheduled presidential primary in the state because the president was the only candidate to qualify.
Paul Goldman, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, had said that given the narrow margin by which Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry made it across the threshold, as well as historical levels of signatures tossed out, it would have been difficult for them to amass the required number to qualify. Mrs. Bachmann, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Huntsman already had failed to get on the ballot by missing the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline.
For a major candidate not to get on the ballot in a state as big as Virginia would be a significant blow to the party, Mr. Goldman said. Mr. Gingrich has surged to the top of national polls, though his support in Gallup tracking polls has waned from 37 percent from a survey early this month to 26 percent in a survey conducted Dec. 18 to 22. The McLean resident took an untimely detour away from campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire on Wednesday and Thursday in a bid to rally enough support to get on the ballot. He held a rally in Arlington County Wednesday evening and attended a Republican Party of Virginia fundraiser in Richmond on Thursday morning.
Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has held relatively steady over the same time period, and stands at 22 percent. Mr. Paul bested Mr. Romney in two Iowa caucus polls early in the week, though he trailed 25 percent to 20 percent in the most recent poll from Rasmussen Reports.
"Imagine if it was Obama and [Hillary Rodham Clinton] and Hillary said, 'OK, sorry, I guess we'll have to concede Virginia, sorry.' It would be a major blow," Mr. Goldman said. "We're not Wyoming. We've got more delegates than North Carolina. If you're looking at a marathon, you're looking at a real slugfest, you can't be in the business of just conceding states."
Virginia's primary is scheduled for March 6, one of about 10 primaries and caucuses to be held on "Super Tuesday." Candidates will need approximately 1,142 delegates to secure the Republican nomination, and Virginia has 49 up for grabs.
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