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Tall order for latecomer McMullin to make presidential ballot in Virginia

Travis Fain
Contact Reportertfain@dailypress.com
Honk if you've seen Evan McMullin's presidential campaign in Virginia

RICHMOND — A last-minute presidential candidate, who joined the race to give "Never Trump" Republicans another option, faces a tall hill and a ticking clock if he wants on the ballot in Virginia.

With less than 10 days to collect 5,000 signatures, veteran third-party operatives used to mounting ballot petition drives said they don't like Evan McMullin's chances. Especially since the law requires 200 signatures each from all 11 Virginia congressional districts.

This is all due to the State Board of Elections Aug. 26. The campaign for McMullin, a former CIA officer and policy director for the House Republican Conference who announced his independent presidential run earlier this month, said it was "ready to get started" in Virginia as of 3:27 p.m. Wednesday.

The announcement came via an email blast to McMullin's supporters and others who have provided an email address through the campaign website.

That includes the Daily Press, which had been asking for seven days to talk to anyone at the McMullin campaign who could speak to its plans to get on the ballot in Virginia. The campaign did not grant an interview, but it did add the newspaper to a fundraising email list.

"We're ready to get started in Virginia," Wednesday afternoon's email said. "Are you willing to help make ballot access in Virginia happen? We need 5,000 verified signatures by August 26. It will be very difficult to accomplish without you."

The signature-gathering process takes organized campaigns weeks. When massive volunteer efforts aren't feasible, it involves paying people to collect signatures. This late in the game, Virginia Libertarian Party Chairman Bo Brown said he'd expect to pay professional petitioners $4 to $5 per signature.

Beating the deadline at this point "is not possible, really," Brown said.

"Well, I don't want to say it's not possible, but they'd need a small army," he said.

GOP operatives unhappy with Republican nominee Donald Trump told the Daily Press this week they hadn't heard from the campaign. The same went for Green and Libertarian Party members, including Brown, collecting signatures for their own ballot efforts.

The State Board of Elections said the McMullin campaign hadn't reached out with any questions.

"It's inconceivable to me that anybody could start this late and gather enough signatures without spending a massive amount of money," said Sydney Smith, co-chairman for the Green Party in Virginia.

McMullin announced his candidacy Aug. 8, saying he hoped to be on the ballot in all 50 states despite missing deadlines in roughly half of them before he even announced. The campaign, backed by some high-powered and disaffected GOP consultants, has said it will seek partnerships with third parties that already have ballot access, and that it plans lawsuits in some states to make the ballot there.

A McMullin spokesman told Politico this week that the campaign would sue in California, which requires more than 178,000 signatures. The deadline was last Friday. The campaign told The Dallas Morning News this week about a similar strategy for Texas, where the filing deadline passed in May.

So far the campaign has said it's on the ballot in Utah, where McMullin is from, and Colorado. In a CNN interview Tuesday, McMullin acknowledged that he probably won't make it on the ballot in all 50 states, but he held out hope.

"It is possible," he said.

Polls have the presidential race looking like a runaway win for Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton with less than three months to Election Day. If the race tightens, though, and McMullin pulls votes from Trump in usually reliably Republican Utah, it could make a difference.

Virginia was once seen as a major battleground state in this election, but the latest polls have Clinton up by high single or low double digits, and her campaign recently pulled television ads here in a sign of confidence.

Virginia organizers for the Libertarian and Green parties said they expect their presidential candidates — former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein — to be on the ballot here. Brown said Libertarians have collected more than 7,600 signatures, with plans to turn in more before the Aug. 26 deadline.

Smith said Thursday that his party had turned in about 6,000 signatures. Not all will be verified by the Board of Elections, though, so collections continue.

"I think we'll probably make it," he said.

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

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