You hear pundits talk about the strength or weakness of a candidate’s “organization,” but it rarely becomes an issue until a candidate doesn’t have one. That happened this week when Newt Gingrich had to leave Iowa for two days to scramble to get 10,000 signatures needed to qualify for the Virginia primary ballot. (He claims he has enough, but if his total is less than 15,000, each signature will be checked and he may well fall short.) He barely made the deadline in Ohio and missed the deadline in Missouri. I asked the Gingrich campaign in what states it had qualified beyond New Hampshire. I got no answer.

For comparison’s sake, I asked the Romney camp for the same information. I promptly got back a list: New Hampshire,Colorado, Florida, Delaware, Vermont, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Romney’s campaign is not going to need to divert the candidate from the campaign trail in critical states nor pay large sums for signature-collection down the road. That’s how organization pays off.

The Ron Paul campaign told me it had gotten on the ballot in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Alabama, Arizona and Virginia.

Take another indication of organizational strength: the ability to put together a fundraising infrastructure and use that money to get bodies on the ground and ads on the air. The Post has a handy chart that highlights the disparity between Gingrich and his challengers. The bottom line: “Newt Gingrich continues to get pummeled on the airwaves in Iowa, and there has not been much he can do about it. This week, he was able to run only about $60,000 worth of ads in Iowa, while Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and a super PAC supporting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney combined to spend about half a million dollars in the state, with most or all of it on attack ads against Gingrich.”

No wonder Gingrich is whining endlessly about negative ads. Both the lack of Gingrich ads and the whining about it that resulted from the lack of a fundraising infrastructure are harmful. As the Des Moines Register pointed out, it has not gone unnoticed that Gingrich’s “history of slash-and-burn politics . . . call into question his outrage over the negative campaigning against him in Iowa today.”

Then there are precinct captains. These are the critical campaign representatives at each caucus meeting who make sure someone speaks on behalf of the candidate and who can urge attendees to cast their votes for their candidate. The number of precincts is 1,774. According to an Iowa GOP official, ”if you have 1,000, you will cover likely 75% of the vote or higher. That is what I would call a good organization.” The Gingrich camp did not answer my inquiry as to how many precinct captains it will have, but the Iowa state official pegs Gingrich’s number at a few hundred. Bloomberg reported yesterday, “In Iowa, Gingrich is still looking for precinct captains, who mobilize supporters to attend the Jan. 3 caucuses. On a Dec. 17 tele-town hall, his campaign asked supporters interested in the job to ‘press one.’ ”

I asked the Romney camp about its staffing. Spokeswoman Andrea Saul would only say, “We feel very good about where we are. We have the coverage we need going into caucus night.” Jesse Benton from the Ron Paul campaign emailed me, “I am sorry, but we don’t discuss the detials about our organization like the numbers of precinct captains we have recruited. I can only say that we have an aggressive effort.”

The proof will be on caucus night, but do you have any doubt which campaigns will have the right people in the most places on Jan. 3?

Organization is not simply about money, although it’s hard to raise a lot of money when you don’t have a set of experienced and competent fundraisers. It is about putting together a team of competent people who make sure the nuts and bolts are in place so the candidate can maximize his vote totals. So far, there is little question that Gingrich is suffering from an organizational failure. And that is the fault of the person at the top.