On the same day President Obama rallied 11,600 at Norfolk State University, he may have gotten some additional help about 90 miles northwest from an unlikely source: the Virginia State Board of Elections.
The board Tuesday allowed Constitution Party candidate and former Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia to appear on the presidential ballot in the state despite a challenge from the Republican Party of Virginia, clearing the way for Mr. Goode to potentially play spoiler for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the swing state.
Candidates must collect at least 10,000 signatures and at least 400 from each of the state's 11 Congressional districts to qualify for the ballot. Mr. Goode, a Democrat-turned-independent-turned-Republican who served six terms in the House of Representatives, says he submitted about 20,500.
The board has asked the office of Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican, to investigate Mr. Goode's petition signatures after a circulator reportedly turned in entries that looked like they came from the same person.
The attorney general can direct a committee to monitor, investigate or supervise an election if necessary and can authorize prosecutions if the committee shows election laws have been broken.
In 2008, third-party and write-in candidates received only about 1 percent of the presidential vote in Virginia, but Mr. Goode's popularity in his old 5th Congressional District and the southern part of the state could help him make more of a dent in major-party candidates' votes this year.
Recent polling shows that Mr. Obama would fare marginally better against Mr. Romney in the state with Mr. Goode on the ballot. But the former congressman maintains he can pull votes away from both candidates in the neck-and-neck race that’s close to a must-win.
"We're reaching out to everyone that’s dissatisfied with the choice between Romney and Obama," Mr. Goode said.
Mr. Goode served 24 years in the state Senate before being elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1996. He shed his party label and ran as an independent in 2000 before winning as a Republican in 2002. His views on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control align with the Republican Party, though he has criticized both candidates for not taking a harder stance on illegal immigration.
Mr. Goode says the party’s petition challenge folds into a larger pattern this year, likening it to the Romney campaign’s treatment of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — the lone GOP primary contender who hasn’t formally endorsed the former Massachusetts governor.
While party organizers collaborated with Mr. Paul to help organize a massive rally in Tampa last week and Wednesday evening’s events at the GOP convention included a video tribute to the retiring congressman, many of his supporters feel their leader was unfairly deprived of a prime-time speaking slot after disputes concerning his delegate count arose in a handful of states.
"This year, I think there's a great intensity to shut out anybody who doesn't conform to the Romney norm," he said.
A Romney spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
State Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins said Mr. Cuccinelli’s office was investigating the potential fraud even before the party sent a letter to the board.
"We have simply reported to the SBE additional systemic problems that warrant review," he said.
These issues include duplicate signatures, invalid addresses and problems with petitions, Christopher Nolen, a lawyer for the state GOP, wrote in an Aug. 30 letter to Board of Elections Chairman Charles Judd.
"These problems display, at best, a stunning disregard for Virginia law," Mr. Mullins said. "Mr. Goode owes the citizens of Virginia an explanation about the irregularities in his petitions."
"[P]lacing Goode’s name on the 2012 general election ballot would condone patent dishonesty and significantly undermine the integrity of Virginia’s elections," wrote Mr. Nolen, adding that their review of Mr. Goode’s petitions is "ongoing."
Many conservatives in the state have lauded Mr. Goode for his service but also remind the public that every vote for him is one that won't go to Mr. Romney.
"Virgil's been very helpful to the conservative cause over the years, but unfortunately a vote for Virgil is a vote for Obamacare," said Ben Marchi, former state director for the anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. "His running can only do harm at this point."
The elections board Tuesday also ruled that Libertarian Party candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein will appear on the ballot.
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