Gingrich and Perry miss key vote after blunder
US presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have suffered an embarrassing blow to their White House bids by failing to qualify for the Virginia Republican primary.
The blunder could prove an especially serious political setback for Mr Gingrich, a front-runner in the Republican race to challenge President Barack Obama in next year's presidential election, because it exposes an organisational weakness of his campaign 10 days before the first-in-the-nation nominating contest in Iowa.
"After verification, (the party) has determined that Newt Gingrich did not submit the required 10,000 signatures and has not qualified for the VA primary," the Republican Party of Virginia said yesterday.
It also revealed that Mr Perry, the governor of Texas, would also not qualify.
The Republican primary is scheduled for March 6 in Virginia, a key swing state in the November election pitting the Republican nominee against Obama.
According to 'The Washington Post', the Perry campaign told state election officials it had submitted 11,911 signatures, while the Gingrich campaign said it had provided 11,050 signatures.
But state party officials contested the claim, and said that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney -- widely seen as Gingrich's chief rival -- and Texas congressman Ron Paul will be the only candidates appearing on the ballot.
"Only a failed system excludes four out of the six major candidates seeking access to the ballot," Mr Gingrich's campaign manager Michael Krull said in a statement.
"Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates."
The rejection was a blow to Gingrich, who has been leading the polls in Virginia.
"For Gingrich it's a disaster," said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"He was the Virginia front-runner. It also sends a message to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that his campaign isn't serious."
Mr Romney -- for months the on-again, off-again favourite in national polls -- had appeared to slip behind Mr Gingrich in recent weeks in Iowa, but a poll last week showed Romney regaining momentum.
It showed Mr Romney with 25pc support, followed by small-government champion Ron Paul at 20pc and Mr Gingrich at 17pc, with the remainder of the candidates at 10pc or less.
But another poll released the same day by Iowa State University had Paul in front with 27pc, Mr Gingrich with 25pc and Mr Romney with 17pc.