Has Virginia already derailed the Republican primary parade?


Sweet Jesus, is it presidential primary season again already? It seems like only yesterday that we were employing the phrase “aspiring president John Edwards” with a straight face. But it has indeed been four years since a young fella by the name of Barack Hussein Obama stunned the establishment by winning the first contest of the 2008 election season in Iowa, kicking off an improbably long and hotly contested fight for the Democratic nomination. (The Republicans, on the other hand, chose Mike Huckabee, launching him on a meandering journey that somehow ended with him and Ted Nugent jamming on Fox News.)


Longtime Virginia resident Newt Gingrich couldn’t muster the necessary votes to land his name on the state’s GOP primary ballot. (File photo)

Well, we were young and excitable then, and spilled much ink describing the various ways that Virginia might eventually sway the primary contest. And on paper, at least, this year seems similar to that endlessly entertaining race. After all, the Iowa Republican caucus basically ended in a tie, with ex-Senator Rick Santorum riding a frothy mixture of evangelicals and values voters to grab a come-from-behind silver medal, and wild-eyed libertarian Ron Paul placing a very respectable third. Add to that the fact that Mitt Romney, the eventual winner (by eight votes!), has the implicit support of Virginia’s sitting governor (and future short-listed Republican Vice President rumoree) Bob McDonnell, just as Obama was favored by Tim Kaine in 2008.

So you would assume that all of the pieces are in place for another extended primary pas de deux (or trois, or quatre), with Romney and his heel-nipping rivals fighting their way across America for months, and the nomination still very much up for grabs when Virginia finally gets around to voting on March 6.

Sadly, this is almost certainly not to be—and for that, Virginia deserves its share of the blame. See, there were only two candidates who could conceivably muster the money and campaign structure to compete long-term: Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Paul had a passel of true believers and a good ground game in Iowa, and will do well in New Hampshire, but will struggle mightily after that. Santorum will survive just long enough for his core constituency of bespectacled Q-tips to type his name into The Google.

Now, both Perry and Gingrich would likely have been in precarious positions when they arrived in the Commonwealth, due to egregious political mistakes of the highest order. But the single thing that sealed their respective fates was the inability to get their names on the Virginia ballot. It just seemed so completely inept—as if both campaigns were being run by a single 16-year-old “consultant” who planned strategy between gym and shop class.

In the two Goofus’s defense, Virginia’s signature requirements are unusually high (10,000 verified, including at least 400 from each congressional district). In addition, though the rules have been in effect since 1970, Perry and Gingrich had the great misfortune to submit lackluster signature packages in the wake of a lawsuit challenging the state GOP’s failure to enforce the rules.

And just like that, Virginia’s Republicans are stuck with a Romney-Paul ballot (and loyalty oaths—but that’s a subject for another column). What’s worse, we—the ravenous political hacks of America—have been denied a six-month dogfight among incompetents for political supremacy. Oh, the humanity!
Oh well. At least we’ve still got Ron Paul.