Virginia stages the nation’s first presidential primary

The results weren’t official until the early hours of Christmas eve, but Virginia just held the first-in-the-nation GOP presidential primary. The only two candidates who demonstrated that they were serious about contending for the White House were Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Those were the only two campaigns to submit the required number of valid signatures to gain access to the state’s primary ballot.

The other campaigns — of Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich — either failed to submit any petitions at all, or failed to file enough valid signatures.

A hardened cynic might say this result exposes those campaigns for what they are: glorified book tours. And in Newt Gingrich’s case, that’s probably more true than people realize. In his appearance earlier this week in Short Pump, Gingrich took pains to mention his forthcoming book on George Washington’s experience at Yorktown.

Is that too cynical? Not really. The State Board of Elections first notified the presidential campaigns on March 6th of the ballot access requirements. The campaigns have had since July 1st to collect the signatures they needed. They even had the great good fortune of having a statewide election in Virginia this November plus the annual gathering of Republican activists in early December to gather signatures.

Some obviously did. Others? Well, those jacket blurbs aren’t going to write themselves you know…

Getting on Virginia’s ballot was a test of organizational skill and grassroots strength. It was also something much more mundane: it tested whether campaigns could pay attention to a calendar and read instructions. For those complaining that Virginia’s rules are too tough — the ballot access requirements have been largely unchanged since 1999. If memory serves, this is the first time in the three election presidential election cycles since then that the bulk of the field failed to make the ballot.

Virginia, then, has done the nation a service. It has winnowed the Republican field in advance of, and with greater precision than, the place-proud voters of Iowa and New Hampshire. The press may not be aware of this yet, and certainly the partisans of each campaign will be loathe to admit it, but tickets to the Republican presidential nomination were issued at RPV headquarters in Richmond, Virginia last night.

Oh, and good morning Gov. Perry. I wonder if your experience with Virginia’s ballot access laws might cause you to reconsider your veto of a measure to liberalize Texas’ ballot rules?