Romney readies mammoth organization for long haul

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Gingrich's organizational deficiencies have already begun to cause problems in places like Missouri, where he missed the deadline to appear on the ballot in the state's Feb. 7 primary. He insisted earlier in the week that he did not plan to compete in that contest because it does not award delegates. Missouri Republicans have set a separate caucus in March to confer delegates.

In Ohio, Gingrich supporters scrambled to scrape together thousands of signatures by Wednesday afternoon to qualify for the ballot there. The secretary of state's office said he met the requirement.

Gingrich faces similar tests in Virginia, Illinois and Indiana in the next several weeks. In every case, Romney's teams have already submitted the signatures or nearly accomplished the task.

But beyond simply qualifying for the ballot, Romney's organization gives him a running start in general election swing states like Missouri in a potential head-to-head matchup against Obama next fall.

"Barack Obama's going to be a very strong opponent — he almost won Missouri last time — and if the governor is fortunate enough to get the nomination, we're going to need a strong effort at every level here," said Talent.

Gingrich declared this week that he plans to challenge Obama in every state next year should he capture the nomination, and he began running his first TV ad. But there are few signs that he's organized supporters on the ground beyond the first three states on the Republican primary calendar.

In Virginia, Lt. Gov. Bill Boiling, a longtime Romney supporter, says the campaign is nearly finished collecting 10,000 signatures due by Dec. 22 to qualify for the ballot. And he's preparing for another fundraising event later in the week, which he expects will push Romney over the $1 million mark from Virginia supporters alone this year.

"At this point, Gov. Romney is well ahead of any other presidential candidate in Virginia in terms of having organization in place," Boiling said.

Virginia is one of 11 states tentatively scheduled to hold elections on March 6, which is known as Super Tuesday in the Republican primary calendar.

"I'd love to see Gov. Romney put this thing away by then — but I'm suspecting we'll still have a spirited race by the time Super Tuesday comes around," Boiling said. "Personally, I would not be surprised to see this race go into the summer. So a campaign has to gear up for that. If someone's strategy in this race is an early knockout punch, I think that's probably a bad strategy."

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