The news that Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry won’t make the Virginia Republican primary ballot but Mitt Romney and Ron Paul will tells us something about the GOP presidential race that national polls can’t: that Gingrich’s lack of a real organization — we’ll leave the Perry camp’s rather different problems aside for a moment — will be a real problem. A campaign that can’t reliably qualify its candidates for state ballots will 1.) forfeit those primaries and 2.) have difficulty identifying and turning out supporters in the states where they are on the ballot.
Nontraditional campaigns can serve a candidate well when it comes to leading in polls, especially nationwide. It worked for Fred Thompson and Herman Cain, and it is working for Gingrich. But that isn’t the way the nomination is decided. Such campaigns have yet to prove themselves capable of doing the hard state-by-state work it takes to actually secure the delegates necessary to claim the prize. That’s why for all his unpopularity and his apparent 30 percent ceiling, Organization Man Romney can’t be counted out yet.
UPDATE: Richard Winger details changes in the Virginia GOP’s ballot access requirements that would have negatively impacted Newt and company. But even if this late change is dirty pool (and it may be), the fact remains that most states will check your signatures.