Ed does a solid run-down of the Virginia GOP’s official take on how only Romney and Paul managed to meet the threshold to appear on the commonwealth’s primary ballot. But I think he’s also missed a couple of salient facts. The note that the VA GOP chairman sent out admits that the party changed the ballot standards. If the party did in fact notify the campaigns of the change in March, as they say, then which campaigns actually got that notice? Rick Perry wasn’t even in the race yet and would not be for another five months. He was presiding over the Texas legislature’s session. Newt Gingrich was in the race, but barely. He didn’t announce until May and then lost his core organization in June. Ron Paul didn’t officially announce his run until May, and Romney waited until June, but both had been building their organizations for years prior. For campaigns that didn’t yet exist, there was no place to send the note.
The party also says that it sent out another notice of the change in October. Ed says that that is “ample warning of the verification process,” but at least in the Perry campaign’s case, they didn’t even have a chairman in Virginia until November (which isn’t unusual). That’s when former state AG Jerry Gilmore signed on. Now, it was Gilmore’s job to ensure that his candidate got on the ballot in his state. He obviously failed. But where did the state party send the October memo, if there was no Perry organization in Virginia at the time?
I’m not absolving any of the campaigns in this. I just don’t think the entire problem can be chucked onto the campaigns or their organizational prowess. State parties have a duty to be very clear and consistent in communicating about the filing deadlines and requirements, just as the campaigns all have a duty to understand and meet those requirements. It’s notable that this problem has only occurred in one state, while the campaigns are up and running in several states. The root of the problem just might be in that one state, not necessarily or solely in the campaigns. I’m not saying that I think “the fix is in” here, far from it. State parties don’t work that way, or at least, they’re not supposed to. There’s no reason to think that corruption has played any role. Just, having worked in a state party, I know how chaotic things can be both for candidates and the party as the former seek ballot access while they’re staffing up and the latter have small staffs tasked with very big and often complex statutory responsibilities. Rule changes at any point in the process can create a whole lot of havoc. Nobody on either side wanted this story to be headlining right now. For one thing, both the party and the campaigns wanted to avoid giving the Washington Post the opportunity to publish drivel like this.