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After late surge, Rick Santorum could miss state ballot deadlines

January 06, 2012|By Melanie Mason and Tom Hamburger
  • Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum talks to reporters and voters after touring Pelletier's Sports Shop in Jaffrey, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Rick Santorum’s surging campaign now must contend with increased scrutiny of his legislative and personal record, but it is one of the most rudimentary campaign steps that could foil his chance for success: getting on the ballot.

The former Pennsylvania senator has already failed to get on the ballot in Virginia and Washington, D.C., sacrificing a potential 68 delegates before the votes are even cast.

In Virginia, Santorum has joined rivals Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman in a lawsuit against the state alleging that the requirement of 10,000 registered voter signatures on the ballot access petition is a “severe burden,” making the ballot rules unconstitutional.  But even if the suit succeeds, leading campaign law experts say, the favorable decision may not apply to Santorum, who did not obtain signatures in the state where he makes home.

“This is the nitty gritty of what you have to do to get nominated,” said Michael Toner, an election law expert who served as co-counsel to several presidential candidates, including the Bush-Cheney campaign. “No GOP candidate in the modern era has been nominated after failing to qualify in multiple states,” he said. “This is a huge under-the-radar challenge to every campaign.”

Santorum’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment today.

There are more access hurdles on the horizon. The deadline for Illinois, which will send 69 delegates to the Republican National Convention, is today, and some campaigns and media sources, (including NBC’s Chuck Todd,) have said it is unlikely Santorum will file a full slate of delegates.

Also looming are the deadlines for Vermont (Jan. 9) and Indiana (Jan. 31). In both states, the candidate must submit petitions signed by registered voters to earn ballot placement—much like the expensive and time-consuming process that stymied Santorum in Virginia. Vermont requires 1,000 signatures, and in Indiana, the campaign needs at least 4,500 signatures, and 500 must come from each of the state’s nine congressional districts. The two states account for 63 delegates.

In all, Santorum could miss out on up to 200 delegates from four states (and D.C.) before the contests are held.

“In terms of impact, it is huge if he yields that many delegates to Romney or whomever. But he has to survive that long first,” said Josh Putnam, a professor of campaigns and elections at Davidson University whose blog, Frontloading HQ, tracks the minutiae of ballot access.

“More than anything, this is a footnote on just how difficult it is to insta-organize following a big ‘win’ (relative to expectations) in Iowa, especially against a well-funded, well-organized candidate like Romney,” Putnam added.

It wasn’t just the election law experts calling attention to Santorum’s problem. An advisor to a "super PAC" backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rick Tyler, said that Santorum’s failure to organize in multiple states should be a signal to those conservatives seeking an alternative to Mitt Romney.

“Romney will make the ballot in all the states,” said Tyler, who worked for Gingrich as an aide for many years before joining the supposedly independent super PAC Winning Our Future. “If you want to support a more conservative candidate, you have to pick someone who has not handicapped themselves in the primary process by starting out behind the eight ball.”

A senior member of the Rick Perry campaign team e-mailed late Friday that the Texas governor had qualified during the day for the ballot in D.C. Illinois, Indiana and Vermont.

melanie.mason@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

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