- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Newt Gingrich is surging in the presidential polls, but his campaign organization has not caught up — making it possible he’ll miss Wednesday’s deadline to file enough signatures to even appear on Ohio’s primary ballot.

Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker whose once-moribund presidential campaign has been resurrected in the polls in recent weeks, already missed the deadline for Missouri’s ballot. With several other state deadlines looming this month, his campaign is showing growing pains as it strives to meet them.

He may get a do-over in Ohio, however. The law currently calls for a 4 p.m. Wednesday filing deadline, which he and other candidates were scrambling to meet. But a new law that takes effect Jan. 20 would move the state’s primary back to June and would reset the filing deadline to March 14.

“Because there’s been some uncertainty with the primaries, our office advised all candidates to file by today,” said Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

As of Tuesday, the Gingrich campaign was still scrambling to try to meet the Wednesday deadline, and a Gingrich organizer had sent out a desperate email Friday, urging Republicans to sign petitions and underscoring the urgency with the words: “I NEED TO KNOW BY MIDNIGHT.”

“We are going to give it our damnedest. We are going to do everything in our capacity to meet this deadline,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hommand said of the Ohio deadline. “As far as the next deadline, we’re on pace for everything else.”

Mr. Gingrich said this week that he intentionally missed the Missouri deadline for getting his name on that state’s primary ballot. He said the Feb. 7 primary is nonbinding, but he promised to participate in caucuses there a month later, where the state’s delegates to the nominating convention will be picked.

Mr. Gingrich also turned in a messy, handwritten form for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary and filled in only seven of the alternate-delegate slots — a distinction that is unlikely to have much impact because candidates rarely have to rely on alternates.

The stretched Gingrich team has notched some successes, though, meeting Tuesday’s deadline in Tennessee, and filing in Oklahoma ahead of that state’s Wednesday deadline, according to local news reports.

Prominent Gingrich supporters groused about the process — the layers of ballot-access hurdles that presidential candidates must overcome.

“We’ve made it far too complicated for any human being to run for office,” said former Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who served in Congress under Mr. Gingrich and supports the former House speaker.

“I don’t like those restriction and regulations,” Mr. Livingston added. “You shouldn’t have to have a battery of accountants and lawyers in every single state to run for president.”

Mr. Gingrich’s critics say a focus on the big picture at the expense of details is typical for the Georgia Republican.

“Newt said he was running a fly-by-night operation, which fits in perfectly with his operation,” said GOP strategist John Feehery, who worked for Mr. Gingrich’s successor, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois. “Fly-by-night operations rarely work in presidential campaigns.”

Mr. Feehery was referring to a comment Mr. Gingrich made earlier this week when he said of his campaign, “We certainly fly by the seat of the pants.”

Mr. Gingrich’s aides and supporters are confident he will meet the filing deadlines of Dec. 14 in Alabama and Dec. 22 for Virginia.

Also upcoming are Dec. 9 deadlines for Louisiana and Michigan and on Dec. 15 for Texas.

The requirements for getting on the ballot in each state vary greatly. Ohio requires submitting signatures of between 50 and 150 Republicans in each of the state’s 16 congressional districts. Michigan requires 10,244 signatures, while Alabama requires just 500 signatures statewide or separate petitions signed by 50 voters from each of the state’s seven congressional districts.

The Gingrich campaign argued that the new proportional allocation of delegates in the GOP primary process could help him in the long run and keep the contest competitive until the spring and perhaps into the early summer.

But the last-minute nature of the effort stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney’s well-oiled 50-state operation, which has been up and running for more than a year. Mr. Romney already had filed his Ohio signatures and has completed ballot-access requirements in Alabama, Vermont and Alaska well ahead of deadlines.

Mr. Romney’s aides say they have prepared for every contingency and plan to exceed signature requirements in each state by 30 percent to allow for mistakes.

“Since this is the first election after redistricting — a lot of times there’s new requirements after redistricting — you’ve got to spend a lot of time on the legal side, painstakingly putting together a list of state-by-state requirements with a lot of detail,” said Mr. Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson.

In Virginia, Mr. Beeson said, the best time to collect signatures — during the previous general and primary elections — has passed.

“It’s a lot different when you’re asking for signatures from Republican voters out doing their civic duty than hitting up people outside of Wal-Marts doing Christmas shopping,” he added.

The Romney campaign deployed two surrogates to criticize Mr. Gingrich when he downplayed the significance of Missouri’s primary.

“Speaker Gingrich’s claim that the Missouri primary is not important is disrespectful to Missouri voters, and it suggests a lack of campaign organization,” former Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, and state auditor Tom Schwiech said in a joint statement. “Governor Romney recognizes that Missouri is an important state, not only in the primary, but also in the general election.”

Mr. Romney’s organization also is likely to pay dividends in New Hampshire’s primary in early January, but the threatened longtime front-runner first must get through the Jan. 3 caucuses in Iowa, where a Washington Post/ABC News poll has him running 15 points behind Mr. Gingrich.

The Gingrich team says it’s more concerned about Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in Iowa.

“We take our hats off to him,” Mr. Hommand said. “We know we’re going to have to play catch-up to Ron Paul … and we don’t have much time left.”

Mr. Gingrich plans to try to capitalize on his growing popularity with a $1,000-a-head fundraiser in the District on Wednesday, the same day he will speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Mr. Livingston, who is co-hosting the fundraiser with former Rep. Bob Walker of Pennsylvania, thinks Mr. Gingrich’s surge will continue throughout the campaign and carry him to the nomination.

“He is the only candidate in the entire race who has actually solved major problems for the country, and we have such devastating problems right now,” Mr. Livingston said. “He has the ability that few people have, but [Ronald] Reagan had — to speak over the heads of opponents and the press and directly to the people.”

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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