RICHMOND, Va. — With high-energy Super Tuesday primaries elsewhere, Virginia Republicans expect a meager turnout for a primary ballot with only two names, a victim of the state's rigorous candidate qualifying laws.
Old Dominion Republicans can choose only between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, whose libertarian streak has earned him a dedicated but small following.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both failed to make Virginia's ballot. So did Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, who've already folded their campaigns.
Perry sued in federal court to force his name onto the ballot, challenging a Virginia law that requires those who circulate qualifying petitions be Virginia residents. Others joined Perry's lawsuit, and a court ruled that while the law is likely unconstitutional, the plaintiffs filed their challenge too late.
A vigorous GOP primary in 2000 helped put then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush ahead for good, as did a massive Democratic primary turnout in 2008 for Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator.
With Obama unopposed within his party for re-election, that leaves only the Republicans with a competitive nomination fight. And in Virginia, it was less competitive than elsewhere with Romney's chief rival, Santorum, sidelined.
Momentum Tuesday appeared to be on the side of Romney, who could pick up all of the 46 delegates available if he can win all 11 of the state's congressional districts. He also has the state's GOP establishment behind him, including U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Gov. Bob McDonnell.
McDonnell, who has been considered a possible vice presidential prospect should Romney win the nomination, cast his ballot at 9:30 a.m. at his downtown Richmond polling place. He had announced plans to vote at 11:15 a.m., but abruptly moved it up Tuesday morning to avoid abortion-rights protesters outside the voting precinct.Comment on this story
After voting, McDonnell lamented the lack of a competitive primary in Virginia, where the rest of the GOP field failed to meet Virginia's exacting ballot requirements that statewide candidates gather 10,000 valid registered voters' signatures, including at least 400 from each congressional district.
"As I've said many times, if you're going to be president of the United States, you ought to be able to get 10,000 signatures in Virginia," he said. "... Listen, everybody knew the rules and nobody complained about the rules unfortunately until after (the qualifying deadline) was over."
Associated Press writer Michael Felberbaum in Richmond contributed to this report.