Steve Helber, Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. — Mitt Romney easily won a Virginia Republican presidential primary in which only two candidates were on Tuesday's ballot and 5 percent of the state's voters even bothered to participate.
Complete but unofficial totals showed the former Massachusetts governor with 59 percent of the vote and Texas Congressman Ron Paul with 41 percent.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich failed to make Virginia's ballot.
Romney won 10 of the state's 11 congressional districts, giving him 43 of the 46 Republican National Convention delegates at stake in the primary. Paul, who carried the overwhelmingly Democratic 3rd Congressional District, pockets three delegates.
Three other delegates, all Republican National Committee members, say they will not commit to a candidate until a nominee is certain.
In a day of hotly contested Super Tuesday primaries elsewhere, Virginia was an afterthought because half of the remaining GOP field was absent from the ballot.
Santorum and Gingrich failed in December to submit the qualifying petitions necessary to qualify for the ballot, as did now-withdrawn candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman.
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 likely is unconstitutional, the plaintiffs challenged it too late.
Slightly more than 250,000 of the state's 5.1 million registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, and the few who turned out took note of the primary's paltry pickings.
At a precinct less than two miles from Gingrich's McLean home, the election went largely unnoticed. Only 30 of the precinct's more than 3,000 voters cast ballots by 10 a.m.
In nearby Falls Church, voter Darren Ewing was frustrated that Virginia's election laws did not allow him to write in Gingrich's name, so he reluctantly voted for Paul.
Gingrich "may not be the most polished candidate, but he's a candidate with a vision" and a track record of implementing significant changes, said Ewing, 41, a financial adviser.
Paul showed isolated pockets of support, possibly the result of crossover votes from Democrats or independents in Democratic strongholds. Besides the 3rd District, Paul carried Charlottesville and the coal mining city of Norton.
Republicans were divided over the state's exacting ballot qualifying rules that statewide candidates submit 10,000 valid registered voters' names, including 400 each from all of the state's 11 congressional districts. Some, faulting it for skimpy ballot choices, say it needs to be change. Others, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, say it's not only fair but proper.
"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.
Romney had built-in advantages in Virginia. Besides his enormous financial advantage, he had the backing of Virginia's GOP elite: U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and McDonnell, who has been a top vice presidential running mate prospect if Romney is the nominee.
Associated Press writers Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Va., and Matt Barakat in McLean, Va., contributed to this report.
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