RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A divisive “loyalty oath” requiring voters in Virginia’s March Republican presidential primary to support the eventual GOP nominee is being removed from the ballot in an expedited, last-minute request from the state Republican Party.
Scrambling to meet a Friday deadline for finalizing primary ballots, Virginia Republican chairman Pat Mullins and the party’s executive director, Dave Rexrode, polled the state party’s governing central committee by phone and e-mail.
The committee voted overwhelmingly to reverse its December decision to place the pledge on the GOP ballots, and the Virginia Republican executive committee made the decision official.
The central committee had planned to vote at a special meeting on Saturday, said Lee E. Goodman, an attorney and longtime adviser to the party, “but that would have been too late. The ballots are sent out on Friday.”
Rexrode rushed the executive committee’s authorization to Donald Palmer, executive secretary of the State Board of Elections, who said the proviso was being struck from the ballot.
Republicans, long suspicious that independents and Democrats were meddling with their nominating process in primaries, saw the pledge as a way to address the concern in a state where voters do not register by party affiliation. Virginia Republicans sometimes hold statewide conventions to ensure that only credentialed Republicans select their nominees.
Mullins began working to reverse the decision when it drew condemnation from across the political spectrum.
The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the GOP unless it was rescinded. Democrats ridiculed it, saying it defines the GOP as an exclusionary party.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell called it unenforceable and unappealing at a time when the GOP is trying to win over voters in the state both parties consider a presidential battleground.
And Del. Robert G. Marshall, one of the General Assembly’s most socially conservative members who this week announced his candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat asked, “If you want people to support you in November, then why would you be putting up stop signs in March?”
Only two Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, qualified for the Virginia ballot.
Democrats and many influential Republicans criticized the action the central committee took at its annual winter gathering to require those who voting a Republican ballot in the March 6 presidential primary to sign the commitment.
The 11th-hour Republican reversal came hours after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld a district court ruling denying Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s legal challenge to Virginia’s tight ballot access standards. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum also joined Perry’s lawsuit, as had former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman before he dropped out of the race.
The appellate decision to sustain the lower court decision that Perry and the others waited too late to challenge Virginia’s law means the primary remains exclusively between Romney and Paul.
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