Newt Gingrich is certain to turn in more than the 10,000 signatures required to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, says Morton Blackwell, the Republican national committeeman for the Old Dominion. Several news reports have suggested that Gingrich’s campaign was scrambling to collect enough signatures before the deadline at 5 p.m. on Thursday, December 22. Blackwell hears Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry will also deliver more than the needed amount. Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, meanwhile, “are still hoping to do that.” Blackwell adds, “I don’t know what the [Michele] Bachmann campaign has done.”
The anxiety over Virginia is a lesson in the importance of organization. The Virginia Republican party suggests that every candidate collect 15,000 signatures statewide, including 600 from each of the eleven congressional districts. The law requires a candidate to collect only 10,000 signatures, including 400 from each district, but the party prefers to play it safe. It then vets the signatures to ensure their validity.
Although Virginia Republicans won’t elect their delegates until May, they will allocate them according to the primary results in March. Each congressional district will elect three delegates, who will be bound to support the candidate who won their district on the first ballot. (If there’s a second ballot, they’ll be free to roam.) In June, the state convention will elect 13 at-large delegates, who will be apportioned among the candidates according to the statewide vote.
Each state poses its own challenges. In Wisconsin, for instance, a candidate needn’t collect signatures, but his fate depends on the whims of the Presidential Preference Selection Committee, a gaggle of state officials who have sole discretion to determine which candidates appear on the ballot. In Arizona, meanwhile, the primary is winner-take-all, but delegates technically aren’t required to abide by the primary results; they merely do so (or vote for the presumptive nominee) by custom.
“It’s an honor system,” says Sharon Giese, the Republican national committeewoman for Arizona.
Bruce Ash, the Republican national committeeman for the Grand Canyon State, says there’s “a very small likelihood” that there will be a fight over disqualified delegates at the convention. To discourage early voting, the RNC has vowed to eliminate half the delegates from states that hold their primaries before party-approved dates (e.g. Florida). The penalty for holding a primary in between March 6 and April 1 is the requirement that delegates be allotted proportionately.
“There could be quite a bit of competition at the RNC to get the penalized states to get their delegates back if that’s what would push one candidate over another,” Ash says. “If this thing drags out, and there are 100 or so delegates between one candidate and another, you know someone is going to be smart enough to go after them.”