Gingrich Camp: More Talk Than Action?

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Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign has suffered a setback on this Christmas weekend. Gingrich failed to get enough signatures to be on the ballot in Virginia, calling into question his organizational ability to sustain a long campaign.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

It's Christmas morning and lawmakers are home enjoying time with their families. But it was a hard-fought road to the holiday after last week's bruising political battle over a payroll tax cut extension. The insurrection, like many Capitol Hill spats this year, was bolstered by Republican Tea Party freshmen. In a minute, we'll hand in a report card for that group in Congress.

But first, the elections. Santa handed Newt Gingrich a lump of coal for Christmas this year. The former House speaker failed to qualify for the Republican primary ballot in his adopted home state of Virginia.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports has the story.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: To be fair, the rules to qualify for Virginia's primary ballot are Baroque in their complexity. You need 10,000 signatures from qualified registered voters. They must all be collected by registered Virginia voters. And at least 400 must come from each of the state's 11 congressional districts.

LARRY SABATO: It's difficult to organize that. However, many minor candidates have done it in the past.

SHAPIRO: Larry Sabato directs the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. This year, five of the seven major Republican candidates failed to meet the mark. Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified.

SABATO: Well, it could say one of two things. Either that Virginia's rules are much too burdensome. Or that most of the candidates running for president don't have the organizational moxie to be running for president.

SHAPIRO: It's the biggest blow of all to Newt Gingrich, the candidate from Virginia. He has led in state polls. And Sabato says his failure to qualify is a massive embarrassment.

SABATO: It signals a campaign that may be more about talk than action. You know, Gingrich lives in Virginia. He knows the rules. They're not new rules. They've been around for decades.

SHAPIRO: Gingrich did collect slightly more than 10,000 signatures after a massive last-minute push. But many were invalid. Candidates often collect twice as many as they need for just that reason.

Yesterday the Gingrich team promised to pursue an aggressive write-in campaign. There's just one problem, says Sabato.

SABATO: There are no write-ins on Virginia primary ballots. Never have been. It's prohibited. He's talking out of his hat, as he so often does. He's invented it.

SHAPIRO: And this is not just a symbolic failure. Virginia is a huge prize with 49 delegates. It votes early, on March 6th, Super Tuesday. Gingrich has positioned himself as a Southern candidate in this race. But now he's a Southern candidate who cannot rely on the Southern state he calls home.

Ari Shapiro NPR News, Washington.

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