The Virginia Republican Party announced early Saturday that former House speaker Newt Gingrich had failed to gather enough signatures to run in the state’s GOP presidential primary, an embarrassing setback that underscored how far he has to go to build a fully functioning campaign organization just days before the first votes of the primary season.
Party officials said Gingrich fell short of the 10,000 valid signatures required to have his name on the ballot on “Super Tuesday,” the crucial collection of 10 primaries held March 6. His chief rival in the campaign, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, submitted enough signatures, as did Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.). Gov. Rick Perry (Tex.) also failed to garner enough signatures; no other key candidate submitted signatures.
While Gingrich has surged in the polls, the major question facing his campaign is whether he will be able to match his rivals in building a sophisticated operation to get his backers to the voting booths. Romney and Paul, both of whom ran for president in 2008, have spent years building national networks.
Iowa holds its caucuses Jan. 3, followed in rapid succession by primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Gingrich has a more established organization in those early voting states, but Romney has been working to build an extensive network in the states that will decide the contest if no candidate breaks out of the pack early on.
Gingrich had made a last-ditch effort to get on the ballot, with stops in Rosslyn and Richmond. His failure to do so is a significant setback in his adopted home state; a poll last week by Quinnipiac University showed that Gingrich led Romney 30 percent to 25 percent among likely Republican voters in Virginia.
Gingrich has won praise in the GOP contest as an eloquent speaker with big ideas and for being an especially strong debater with a charismatic personality. But since his original campaign effort imploded in the spring, nearly torpedoing his candidacy, he has faced constant questions about whether he can harness the money and organization to assemble an elaborate and disciplined operation.
His field staff is still small, and his Iowa campaign still has many vacancies to fill among precinct captains and caucus speakers before the Jan. 3 voting. He has been doing town-hall meetings by telephone in Iowa to recruit volunteers.
And with his campaign working in recent months to pay down its debt, he has faced rivals who have had a significant financial edge for much of the campaign. It’s unclear how much of the financial gap he has closed since his surge in the polls, but lately Gingrich has had a difficult time countering an onslaught of millions of dollars of negative advertising by his opponents.
Gingrich’s campaign has portrayed his decision not to fight back in kind as the result of his desire to run a “nice” campaign. But privately, his advisers acknowledge that the candidate doesn’t really have any option without a campaign organization, deep bank account or well-funded independent committee to combat the attacks.