Ballot access for the 2008 GOP Presidential hopefuls

As I have discussed here before, I will be a strong supporter of Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel should he seek the GOP nomination for President, and thus have concerns about the ease of gaining ballot access in New Jersey and the process that might entail.

I communicated with NJGOP State Chairman Tom Wilson on this topic, and he informed me that no decisions have yet been made with respect to ballot access, but that a group had been assembled to discuss the various options and then present them to the 42-member Republican State Committee for a vote before September. Obviously time is of the essence for potential candidates like Hagel who will not have the manpower and financial resources of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and most especially Rudy Giuliani.

So I contacted my friend Michael Illions, a pro-wrestler also known as "The Commish", who is the head of GOPUSA-NJ Conservatives with Attitude, an influential group of activists known for their monthly brunches that have featured prominent conservative office-holders, pundits, authors, etc. Illions and his colleagues have endorsed California Congressman Duncan Hunter, who faces similar challenges to Hagel.

My pitch to Illions was: let's write an editorial together, though our interests and our views occasionally diverge on certain points, to shed more light upon the machinations that will affect ballot access in the Primary next year. We wrote it up and the Asbury Park Press ran the piece today.
Early primary can boost conservative Republicans' impact


The presidential primaries of 2008 have created the most exciting political climate that America has witnessed in decades. Neither party has an incumbent president or an ordained successor running, making the nomination wide open. Extraordinary media coverage has accelerated the process and raised the stakes tremendously for presidential contenders.

The impact of this groundbreaking scenario presents a major opportunity for New Jersey. In the past, Republican and Democratic voters in the Garden State picked their preferred presidential nominee on the June primary ballot as a mere formality, at a late stage when the likely candidate was all but certain. This time, however, New Jersey voters could affect the viability of both parties' contenders in 2008, thanks to the decision to move the presidential primary to Feb. 5.

For the state Republican Party, this move could be a windfall. While the state GOP has struggled in recent years, the intense media coverage of the primary is certain to increase the political awareness of many New Jerseyans holding conservative views, thus widening the pool for recruitment of new activists whose energy we need in the party in order to rebuild.
However, we may not have the opportunity to tap that rich reservoir if competition is dampened by the process — determined by our state party leadership — that governs ballot access for presidential contenders.

The group of potential nominees contains, in addition to the two or three front-runners on the Republican side, numerous candidates who have announced their candidacies or are expected to do so shortly. While these second-tier contenders lack the financial resources and political organizations that characterize the front-runners, many compensate with specific planks that may appeal to sizable portions of the Republican base, such as military expertise, immigration stances, pro-life credentials and foreign policy acumen.

In the context of an early primary, exposure of these ideas and skills could propel any of them to become a major contender. Thus, all of the candidates deserve a fair shot at the GOP nomination. The process that determines ballot access in New Jersey must offer a level playing field to everyone. Presently, the process has not been clarified; however, one could speculate it ultimately would embody one of several scenarios:

In the most simple, transparent and preferable mechanism, any Republican candidate could get on the ballot by presenting a sizable number of petition signatures from registered Republicans in New Jersey, perhaps 1,000 statewide, or 100 in each of 13 congressional districts. This method represents a sufficient workload that would preclude frivolous candidates from ballot access. But it would give all serious hopefuls a fighting chance, therefore maximizing the competition of ideas and offering the most choices for Republican voters.

In a more complicated scenario, each candidate would need, in addition to collecting signatures for his or her petition, to assemble a slate of delegates that would ultimately attend the Republican National Convention to cast New Jersey's votes, should he or she emerge victorious. This would entail circulating a separate set of petitions for the delegates themselves.

Such a process embodies a significant handicap for second-tier candidates, who rely on favorable response to their convictions and principled stands to keep their presidential aspirations afloat, rather than armies of staffers paid to drive around town collecting hundreds of signatures. So instead of focusing on ideas to make life better, these candidates would be forced to concentrate on tasks designed to make life difficult.

For this reason, delegates should not be on the ballot in the primary, or at least not connected with any specific candidate. As an alternative, the GOP chairman in each county could nominate delegates to the Republican National Convention and those delegates would be required to cast New Jersey's votes in a manner proportional to the results of the presidential primary.

In either case, the Republican base, particularly those of us supporting second-tier candidates, needs to know as quickly as possible the process so we can plan accordingly. We appreciate the establishment by Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson of a committee to study the options and present recommendations to the Republican State Committee for a vote. We urge him to continue to communicate with transparency and timeliness all activities that may affect the ability of any Republican presidential contender to compete in New Jersey.

The more successful the state GOP is at creating an active, exciting and issue-based presidential primary, the more successful we will ultimately be at building the Republican Party in New Jersey by harnessing the minds of Garden State citizens dedicated to conservative principles.

George Ajjan of Clifton is a former Republican candidate for Congress in the 8th District. Michael Illions of Woodbridge is head of GOPUSA-NJ Conservatives with Attitude.

O --- This article first appeared in the Asbury Park Press on March 22, 2007.


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