As Goes Virginia…..

UPDATE: Via Bearing Drift, it has been learned that Rick Perry has launched his own legal challenge. Actually, it’s beyond launched–the suit has already been filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia. Their argument seems to be that the requirement that voters be registered to vote or eligible to register in Virginia unconstitutionally restricted his ability to recruit signature gatherers. (Focus on seems to be–I’m not a lawyer) They cite a number of other cases in which registration requirements were struck down. We seem to finally have a number for Perry–6k signatures. This isn’t even close to the 10,000 valid required. We’ll see how this pans out–he may get relief from the court, but I imagine the jeers will be even louder from the blogosphere than they were before. Also, one correction–any legislative fix will require 80 delegates, not 60 as I wrote earlier. That means they’ll need 13 Dems to cross over (12 if Putney votes with the GOP).

This is a Virginia-centric blog, so of course, one would expect me to view the entire political landscape through the prism of the Old Dominion. And sometimes, that can be a rather jaundiced view. However, a funny thing happened over the weekend….Virginia became kinda important. Or at least we think we did, or maybe we became less important….at any rate, people were talking about us.

That came when, in the early hours of Christmas Eve, it became known that the ballot for the March 6th Republican Presidential Primary would feature only former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Volunteers at RPV’s Obenshain Center had been working since the morning of December 23rd. Paul and Romney got through easily, but on that evening it was discovered that Texas Governor Rick Perry wouldn’t make it. That pretty much left Gingrich for those who don’t much care for either candidate, and the supporters of those two to root for Gingrich to fail. Facebook and Twitter lit up with conversation rivaling election night itself. Granted, some of this was likely due to the fact that “Ron Paul” is something of a fighting word for both Ron Paul detractors and supporters, but it was still pretty amazing for the night before Christmas Eve. Ultimately, around 3 a.m., word came out that Gingrich had indeed fallen short. Huzzahs rang out from those who don’t much care for Gingrich, while everyone else who doesn’t much care for Romney or Paul found themselves rather disgruntled. To add tragedy to all of this, one volunteer died in an automobile accident after a day of working to verify signatures.

So what now? Well, let’s first look at this close to home. The very first reaction to this was the first thing that comes to the mind of any loser (or to the mind of any candidate too lazy/principled to fill out paperwork *cough*AlAsbury*cough*): Write-in Time! However, despite the fact that it is discussed every time a primary comes up, write-ins are not allowed in Virginia primaries. Newt Gingrinch, a Virginia voter, was out of the loop on this, along with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who suggested such a thing in his post-Christmas newsletter. What’s left for Gingrich? Well, there could be a legal challenge, but the Washington Post talked to observers who suggest this as unlikely. The other possibility would be an emergency change in election law that would allow write-ins. But the RTD notes this too is a problem: the GA doesn’t convene until Jan 11th, and ballots must be printed by Jan 21st. Emergency legislation requires a supermajority of (updated) four fifths–32 Senators, and 60 80 Delegates. Those are high barriers, and with a very slim Republican majority based solely on the fact we hold the LG’s chair, very unlikely to be reached.

So with no real chance for Gingrich to make a real play in Virginia, the conversation has turned more to whether or not the ballot access rules are or aren’t fair. Given the number of bytes that have been spilled on this topic (and that my New Year’s resolution is to produce shorter posts), here’s a cheat sheet to where some of Virginia’s bloggers fall on the issue. Name, followed by blog affiliation. I tried to break this down into two categories: those who would like to see reform and/or think we ended up with a bad outcome, and those who think the system is good and/or were happy with the outcome. I encourage anyone who’s interested to please read the entirety of each post, and if you’re the blogger in question and feel I’ve unfairly characterized your stance (that’s the problem with categories: so convenient yet so deadly), please let me know.

Upset by the outcome/Supportive of access reform

Elwood Sanders (VARight)

Tom White (Also VARight) (Also worth a read)

Too Conservative (Too Conservative)

Lovettsville Lady (Virginia Virtucon) (Also worth a read, the full text of Cuccinelli’s statement)

Citizen Tom (Citizen Tom)

Rick Sincere (Bearing Drift)

Chris Ashby (Ashby Law)

Supportive of the outcome/Opposed to ballot access reform

Norm Leahy (Bearing Drift)

Brian Schoeneman (Bearing Drift)

Shaun Kenney (Bearing Drift)

And, so….wait, wait…..

So, uh, yeah…..while writing this post, turns out that there will indeed be a legal challenge on behalf of Gingrich….or, at least that there’s a group out there saber-rattling for one, according to the Politico. But as Shaun Kenney points out, it appears at face-value to be astroturf, featuring a former DPV Chairman and various Washington insider. But, there we are.

However, regardless, there is now an ongoing debate about the regulations themselves. Naturally, some are throwing this right back at RPV, arguing (as they always do) that a caucus system should have been used. They’ll argue now that any candidate could have participated and that it would have saved taxpayers money, but the real motivation is the belief that such a system favors a conservative nominee. Others are arguing that the regulations present too high a threshold, while still others are (rightfully, to a degree) blaming the candidates themselves for not doing the work (I’ll note that many of these seem to be Romney and Paul supporters).

My take? I won’t wade into the convention v. primary mess (although I do like the fact that parties in VA have a choice), but if there is to be a primary, I personally like the signature system. I find it unseemly to buy a position on the ballot. It’s good to show that you have the consent of the governed to at least appear as a choice, and its not bad name id. It’s a win-win for citizens and candidates. However, I think the big problem is in the amount required. Essentially that the state has done is taken the threshold of 10,000 statewide and 400 per district to get on the general election ballot and transferred it to the primary system. I think that is a reasonable amount–no need to have every Tom, Dick and Harry appear on the statewide ballot if they can’t even show that relatively small amount of support. However, this is not an apples-oranges comparison. What’s odd is that the Board seems to get that you can’t do things in proportion for other elections….there’s different levels set up for every non-statewide race to appear on the ballot. What they don’t seem to notice, however, is how much different a primary is from a general election. A very small section of the electorate will be participating in this race compared to a general election. Why require the same amount to appear before this audience as the general election? One could argue because primaries are open to all Virginia voters who choose to participate in only that party’s primary, but let’s get real–nowhere near half, not even 25%, maybe not even 10% of all voters will show up. Let’s get real and lower the bar for primary contests. I think that will satisfy both critics and supporters of what has just gone done (even though it will not change the present outcome) and allow for a more democratic process in the future. Well, let me back up–I think supporters really don’t want to budge at all. But I hope my view at least provides food for thought.

Now, what does this all say for the actual campaigns involved? Well, let’s first talk about the three campaigns that didn’t submit signatures at all: Huntsman, Santorum, and Bachmann. Well, their campaigns are pretty much DOA, and I think they know it. Huntsman really only ever had a media bubble and never took off with activists. Santorum has been in the cellar for pretty much this entire campaign, and Bachmann collapsed some time ago. They all know that their last hope rests with a miracle in an early state (Iowa for Santorum and Bachmann, and New Hampshire for Huntsman). Even then, they can only hope that a bounce coming out of there allows them to take enough delegates away to force a brokered convention, something that the window will begin to shut on by the time we get to Virginia. What’s more, around the same time as Virginia, you’re going to need money to play in multiple states at once, something only Huntsman has, and that’s personal money. Why drop all that on a lost cause? They know their time is nearing an end. If its bleak enough after Iowa Bachmann will bow out, along with Huntsman after NH. Santorum will stay in but I doubt he makes it to Not So Super Tuesday (when Virginia will vote, along with quite a few less states than usually go on Super Tuesday).

What about Paul and Romney? Well, kudos to them. They get the process, and they have good organizations. Not at all surprising–the Paul people have pretty much stayed organized since 2008, and Romney’s campaign chair is LG Bill Bolling. They knew the drill, and even though it was daunting, they followed through. No real surprises here. What are their chances? I think Romney will win Virginia altogether, and by virtue of that get all of Virginia’s at large delegates. Due to an RNC rule change, Virginia’s at large delegates are proportioned to any candidate that receives more than 15% of the vote….unless a candidate gets 50% of the vote, in which case they get all of them. Since there’s only two candidates, one of them will walk away with the at-large prize. However, in each congressional district, the winner of the district will win that district’s delegates. I think that Paul stands a shot here of getting some of Virginia’s delegates, particularly in the Fifth and Sixth Districts. Also, expect a hard fought fight between Romney and Paul. I suspect that many GOP activists will stay home, because even though they see Romney as the lesser of two evils, many see him as the greater of three evils, two of which aren’t on the ballot: Perry and Gingrich. Paul people on the other hand….well, if there’s two feet of snow that day, they will still tunnel their way to their polling place. That’s just how dedicated they are, plus Paul could pick up some people who are disgruntled at RPV because they believe the game was rigged in Romney’s favor.

What about Perry? Well, this is a real embarrassment for him. Like Bachmann before him and Cain after him, the wheels fell off his wagon in pretty quick order. However, Perry is a known quantity–the longest serving governor of one of the biggest states in the union–he can raise money, and he has lots of connections. It’s been assumed of late that if he does well enough in the early states, he could possibly come back just a little to wait for everyone else to drop then stand alone as the non-Romney, non-Paul candidate. But this doesn’t look good–one, he’s not on the ballot. That alone makes the delegate math problematic. Throw in the fact this makes him look unorganized, and Perry’s going to have a long slog back into the front of the pack. It’s very odd–Perry’s petition is one of the first I signed (in fact, the only other one I signed was for Cain, who seemed to actually get the process and very well could have made it had he not folded up his tent a few weeks back). This was back in mid-August. Word is, though, after the debates, this all got thrown on the backburner, and I suspect that some early Perry backers stepped back after the fiasco of the fall, and Perry suddenly found himself without an organization in Virginia once the ship was close to being back on course.

But Gingrich….ooo, this is a toughie. I want to like Gingrich. I have a picture of him and I in my office. I was prepared to support him in 2008 and have been leaning is way the past few weeks. But this is a disaster. I think one of two things happened here. Either Newt never really expected to be here and just wasn’t thinking it through, or he’s really thought all along that his slow and steady rise would just bring everything together. Either way, here’s the problem: 10,000 signatures just don’t “come together.” You have to be organized SOMEHOW to get it done. Every indication I have is that the Gingrich team was scrambling at the last second to get this done, spending money left and right. So they spent tens of thousands of already limited funds (Gingrich has never been a good fundraiser in this race) and now have bupkus to show for it. The handling of the affair has made things even worse. First, there was Newt’s challenge to run as a write-in–in a state that doesn’t allow it in primaries. Do they not have an election lawyer on retainer? What makes this all the more embarrassing is the fact that Newt lives in MCLEAN, VIRGINIA and is, in fact, a Virginia voter. Now, there’s a whole lot saber rattling, some would say typical Newt, to get the law changed or bring it to the courts. They’ve even compared this to Pearl Harbor. Here’s the trajectory I see for Newt: unlike the others who have risen, he is not a bubble. He is a balloon. He can’t be popped easily–someone’s going to have to really stab him. Problem is, he isn’t very organized, so nobody realizes that there’s a leak at the bottom. He’s going to continue to lose air. Newt has a real shot to patch things up in IA and NH, but if he doesn’t, then he may very well be out before SC too. But if he does, then Virginia is still an issue.

And what of the final figure in this drama–Virginia itself? Many are saying that Virginia’s a big loser by ending up with just two candidates on the ballot, both of whom are deeply polarizing figures with GOP circles (not that anyone in this race is a real uniter, but that’s another story altogether). Many are suggesting that via this outcome Virginia Republican are relinquishing any possible attention in the primary. I don’t put alot of stock in that statement. For starters, I believe Virginia will still be fought over. Romney can’t afford a loss to Paul–even if he is on the path to the nomination by that point, he won’t need talk of a divided primary or internal backlash. Meanwhile, the Paul people will be looking to make a statement, as they know the tremors that will rock the establishment if they pull it off. It will probably mainly be an airwar yes, but…..that’s pretty much what Virginia had to look forward to anyways. Virginia is right in the thick of things by going at a time when multiple states are voting and campaigns are gearing up to play in multiple states at once. The possibility of alot of candidate campaigning was not all that bright for the Old Dominion anyways. And that’s pretty much how its going to stay–Virginia isn’t going to break the rules and risk their delegate influence by moving into February in subsequent years (unless the RNC and DNC change their current protectionist policies designed to lock in the influence of NH, IA, SC and NV) nor are they going to go late and risk being utterly meaningless. They’ll stay in the middle, which means less personal campaigning but a fairly decent amount of influence in the process.

Much of this column, right now, is pretty speculative. Things are moving very quickly, but that means we have no real way of knowing what the outcome will mean legally or campaign wise for Virginia. Right now, after a brief moment in the sun, all eyes turn to Iowa (which, as no Delegates are being pledged to any candidate next Tuesday, is utterly meaningless, but shhhh! Don’t tell the media!), and the campaigns turn to the very real concerns of getting voters out and whether or not it will snow in Sioux City a week from today.

But Virginia, as my mother would say, is very much “in the soup” now. So have at it in the comments section. I could come up with some polls, but with so many different factors here (and with my polls on topics other than in-state races drawing so little attention), have at it below.

Oh, and one last thing……

RON PAUL!

There, that should stir the pot and get the debate going.

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  1. December 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Just to let you know, I’ve been in favor of ballot-access reform for a long time. This recent incident merely provided an opportunity to start a new conversation about it.

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