Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for Virginia's Super Tuesday primary ballot, the latest setback for a candidate whose standing in polls has been slipping. Gingrich's campaign said he would pursue an aggressive write-in campaign, though state law prohibits write-ins on primary ballots.
The state party said early Saturday that Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry had failed to submit the required 10,000 signatures to appear on the March 6 ballot.
Failing to get on the ballot in Virginia, where Gingrich lives, underscores the difficulty first-time national candidates have in preparing for the long haul of a presidential campaign.
And it illustrates the advantage held by Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who has essentially been running for president for five years. Romney's team, larger than those of most of his opponents, has paid close attention to filing requirements in each state. He will appear on the Virginia ballot along with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who also has run a national campaign before.
Ironically, Gingrich had a slight lead over Romney in a Quinnipiac poll of Virginia Republicans released earlier in the week.
The former House speaker surged in popularity in early December and tried to use that momentum to make up for a stalled campaign organization. But his standing in polls has slipped in recent days amid a barrage of negative ads in Iowa, where the Jan. 3 caucuses begin the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Three other candidates _ Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman _ did not submit signatures before Virginia's deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday.
Gingrich's campaign attacked Virginia's primary system on Saturday, saying that "only a failed system" would disqualify Gingrich and other candidates and vowing to run a write-in campaign.
"Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates," Gingrich campaign director Michael Krull said in a statement. "We will work with the Republican Party of Virginia to pursue an aggressive write-in campaign to make sure that all the voters of Virginia are able to vote for the candidate of their choice."
However, according to state law, "No write-in shall be permitted on ballots in primary elections."
"Virginia code prohibits write-ins in primaries. He can't do it," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond.
Tobias said Gingrich may have had trouble meeting a requirement that he must submit 400 signatures from each of Virginia's 11 congressional districts.
Gingrich's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gingrich had been concerned enough to deliver his signatures personally. Rushing Wednesday from New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 10, he had supporters sign petitions before entering a rally in Arlington, Va.
Virginia GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said in a statement that volunteers spent Friday validating signatures on petitions that Romney, Paul, Perry and Gingrich had submitted. "After verification, RPV has determined that Newt Gingrich did not submit required 10k signatures and has not qualified for the VA primary," the party announced early Saturday on its Twitter feed. Shipley did not respond to telephone calls Saturday seeking comment.
Forty-six delegates will be at stake in Virginia's Super Tuesday primary. That's a small fraction of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination. But they could prove pivotal in a close race, especially for a candidate like Gingrich, who expects to do well in Southern contests.
Gingrich already missed the deadline to appear on the ballot in Missouri's Feb. 7 primary, though he insists it doesn't matter because the state awards delegates based not on the primary but on a Republican caucus held in March.
Meanwhile, Virginia's Democrats said President Barack Obama's re-election campaign gathered enough signatures to get him on the state's primary ballot though he was the only candidate who qualified.
Associated Press writers Will Lester and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.