RICHMOND, Va.--Struggling to keep up with his success in opinion polls, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Thursday was furiously rounding up the final signatures on petitions that he needs to compete in the Virginia primary.
The state’s March 6 primary could be decisive if the race for the GOP nomination lingers past the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. The former House speaker has surged in the polls in recent weeks, making him competitive with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination and raising the possibility of a long primary fight.
To get on the Republican primary ballot in Virginia, candidates must by 5 p.m. Thursday have turned over 10,000 signatures, with at least 400 of those from registered voters in each of the state’s 11 congressional districts. Romney already has submitted his paperwork, and Rep. Rand Paul of Texas and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are expected to turn in theirs in the course of the day, according to Chris Piper, manager of the state’s Election Services office.
Gingrich told a crowd of about 175 people at a GOP fundraising breakfast that he will have at least 12,000 signatures by the end of the filing deadline. He also said he expects to finish in the top three or four in the upcoming Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, an effort on Gingrich’s part to reel in expectations in a state where he has been running in the top two in state polls.
Later in the day, speaking with reporters, Gingrich said: “I never said I’d come in first in Iowa. I think there was a period when I was the front-runner, but, frankly, if you get $7 million or $9 million of negative ads, most of the them false, the sheer weight of negativity has a real impact. I have no idea. I don’t think anybody has any idea what’s going to happen in Iowa right now. You could imagine Ron Paul coming in first. You could imagine a number of other scenarios.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell appeared at the Richmond event with Gingrich, although he did not endorse him. Gingrich said that the governor would make a good vice president or Cabinet secretary: “He’s one of the most universally talented people in the Republican Party.”