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Rick Perry is fighting to stay on the ballot in Virginia after a federal judge ruled on Friday that he, Gingrich, Huntsman (who has since dropped out of the race) and Santorum all failed to gather the required number of signatures to be listed on the ballot in that state’s primary.
The only two candidates who qualified for the March 6 primary under Virginia’s rules are frontrunner Mitt Romney and the GOP’s dark horse, Texas Representative Ron Paul.
Virginia has the highest threshold of any state for admittance into the presidential primary, requiring “10,000 registered voters’ signatures, 400 of which must come from the state’s 11 congressional districts, and that their petitions only be circulated by Virginia residents.”
Rick Perry’s campaign isn’t giving up Virginia to Romney and Paul without a fight, appealing yesterday to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Perry argues that Virginia’s law stipulating that only Virginia residents are allowed to circulate petitions on behalf of a candidate is constitutional in that it violates his free speech rights. In a hilarious twist, HuffPo notes the judge who issued the ruling “agreed that that provision is likely unconstitutional,” but that “if the candidates thought the law was unconstitutional, they should have challenged it when they first began their campaigns in the state rather than waiting until after they failed to make it.”
So what will a two-horse race between Mitt Romney and dark horse Ron Paul look like? At the very least, Paul is guaranteed to tie his New Hampshire finish of second place—a best for the candidate so far. But with Paul’s respectable fundraising machine and deeply passionate following, could he eek out a win over Romney? And will the increased attention on Paul in the weeks leading up to the March 6 event make him look more viable as a potential nominee?
HuffPo notes that Perry’s appeal defends the timing of how he made his case, saying he “timely, and steadfastly, moved to protect his constitutional rights once his claim was ripe.” No decision has been made yet on whether to open the state’s primary up to other candidates, so it could still become a wider contest. But if not, Ron Paul might be about to claim a significantly wider slice of the limelight and the news cycle starting next month.