Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II backed away Sunday from a call to fix the state’s ballot access law in time to change the ballot for the March 6 Republican presidential primary, while reaffirming his support to make a fix for future elections.
Only Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gathered enough signatures to qualify. The state Board of Elections set the order of the ballot Wednesday.
Mr. Cuccinelli, Republican, said in a statement that after working through various scenarios with Republican and Democratic leaders, he was concerned that there was not a way to change the requirements that would make it fair for the campaigns of Mr. Paul or Mr. Romney.
“A further critical factor that I must consider is that changing the rules midstream is inconsistent with respecting and preserving the rule of law - something I am particularly sensitive to as Virginia’s attorney general,” he said.
One potential proposal would have said that if the state Board of Elections determines a candidate qualifies for federal matching funds, they can automatically be put on the ballot.
News of Mr. Cuccinelli’s push for an immediate change spread like wildfire Saturday, and offered Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican on a collision course with Mr. Cuccinelli in the 2013 gubernatorial race, the opportunity to push back.
“Whether you like Virginia’s current system or not is a fair debate for future elections, but I don’t understand how you can change the rules in the middle of this election process,” said Mr. Bolling, who also serves as Mr. Romney’s state campaign chairman.
“If you do that it would be unfair to those candidates who qualified for the ballot in accordance with the law and the rules that had previously been established. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game just because you don’t like the result. That doesn’t seem fair or legally correct to me.”
Mr. Bolling also followed up after Mr. Cuccinelli’s announcement Sunday to say he was pleased about the attorney general’s change of heart, but dinged him for publicly backing a fix to the rules at the same time his office is being forced to defend them.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has gone to federal court in Richmond to plead his case, though a judge on Thursday denied his bid for an emergency order to get his name on the ballot.
“Going forward, I would also encourage Attorney General Cuccinelli to avoid making public statements that criticize our state election laws while his office is defending the State Board of Elections in a lawsuit that has been brought against them by Governor Perry and certain other presidential candidates,” Mr. Bolling said.
“I am concerned that such public comments could be used against the commonwealth in our effort to defend these lawsuits, and I am confident that the attorney general would not want to do anything that could jeopardize his office’s ability to win this case.”
Mr. Cuccinelli has consistently maintained his intentions were never focused on whether certain candidates or a certain party would benefit or be harmed, but rather on the interests of Virginians, who could be denied the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
“I do not change position on issues of public policy often or lightly,” he said. “But when convinced that my position is wrong, I think it necessary to concede as much and adjust accordingly.”
At any rate, Mr. Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are still on the outside looking in at this point, as they did not submit the necessary 10,000 signatures statewide and 400 from each Congressional District to make the ballot.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. did not bother trying to turn in signatures to meet Virginia’s requirements, which are among the strictest in the entire country.
Mr. Perry’s lawsuit argues that the provision requiring signature gatherers to be either eligible or registered voters in the state is unconstitutional.
The campaigns of Mrs. Bachmann, Mr. Santorum, Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Gingrich said Saturday that they intend to file a joint motion to intervene in the case.
They asked that the commonwealth’s Board of Elections either add them to the ballot or not take action until the judge hears arguments Jan. 13.
A Northern Virginia lawyer has filed suit in Richmond Circuit Court to get Mr. Gingrich’s name on the ballot, though the lawsuit is not affiliated with the Gingrich campaign.