A botch that will live in infamy

    At first glance, Newt Gingrich’s failure to qualify for the Virginia Republican primary seems like a minor story, an inside-baseball factoid of interest only to the most fervent political junkies. Au contraire. Newt’s botch is actually a metaphor for the fragility of his entire candidacy.In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Virginia GOP disclosed on Twitter that Newt – ostensibly one of the party’s presidential front-runners, and a longtime resident of the nation’s 12th most populous state – had failed to submit the 10,000 citizen signatures that are required for admittance to the primary ballot. Virginia Republicans vote on March 6, along with a slew of other states on “Super Tuesday.” If the contest is still undecided on March 6, Virginia’s 49 delegates would be important. Newt has been leading the pack in Virginia polls, yet now he won’t have access to those delegates.  Newt’s strategists, in a bid to tamp down their embarrassment, promptly declared this weekend that they would galvanize Virginians to write in Newt’s name on primary day; but the problem is, Virginia law prohibits write-in votes.This episode is a vivid reminder that Newt is still suffering the aftershocks of his implosion last spring, when most of his staffers and volunteers and donors walked out on him. He has since raised his profile, of course, thanks to the exposure of the serial Republican debates (otherwise known as “free media”) – but primaries require a strong ground game, an infrastructure that will tend to the nuts and bolts. Newt may be great at bloviating from a podium, but organization has never been his strong suit. Just ask anyone who served in the House back when he was Speaker.Virginia’s ballot access rules are pretty onerous, and naturally the Newtoids sought to scapegoat those rules (a Newt spokesman assailed Virginia for its “failed system”), but the bottom line is that Newt had nearly six months to collect those 10,000 signatures. Virginia decreed back in the spring that the signature-collection phase would start on July 1. Yet Newt didn’t get it done – because he still hasn’t put together a decent ground game.Case in point was his weekend spin about organizing a write-in campaign. If Newt had a decent ground game in Virginia, his people would have known about Va. Code section 24.2-529, which bars write-in votes on primary ballots. All told, Karl Rove was right when he chided Newt on Fox News: “This is a problem – if you’re the front-runner and you can’t organize your campaign so you can meet those filing deadlines. It’s elemental. It’s the fundamental thing you do.”Newt’s springtime implosion set him back on the fundamentals. Heck, the Iowa caucuses are only eight days away, yet he didn’t even open a second Iowa office until last week. Staffers in his Des Moines headquarters didn’t even get phones until a few weeks ago. He almost didn’t make the ballot in Ohio. He missed the deadline to appear on the ballot in Missouri.It appears that only two candidates – Mitt Romney and Ron Paul – have the organizational strength for a long campaign of attrition. Not so coincidentally, Romney and Paul were the sole candidates to qualify for the Virginia ballot. (And, not so coincidentally, Romney and Paul are the sole candidates who have run before; experience counts.) Hyperbolic rhetoric may grab the headlines, as Newt has so frequently demonstrated, but it can’t supplant that daily grind on the ground.And speaking of hyperbole, the Newtoids outdid themselves this weekend. In the wake of the Virginia embarrassment, Newt’s campaign director went on Facebook and wrote the following:”Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941. We have experienced an unexpected setback, but we will regroup and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action.”Now there’s the Newt we know. Only Newt would compare his ballot failure to the violent deaths of 2,930 Americans at Pearl Harbor. Yes, folks, when Newt looked skyward on Saturday morning, he apparently saw the Virginia state emblem glinting on the wings of warplanes.

    Seems to me like Freddie Mac overpaid for his services as an historian. If he truly believes that Dec. 24, 2011 is a date that will live in infamy, then Virginia is doing voters a favor by leaving him off the ballot.    ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.