RICHMOND, Va., Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A federal judge ruled against Republican candidates trying to get on the Virginia primary ballot Friday, saying the argument was sound but they waited too long.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman challenged Virginia's residency requirement for people who circulate ballot petitions for their names to be on the March 6 ballot. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas are the only candidates to qualify.
"Had the plaintiffs filed a timely suit, the court would likely have granted preliminary relief," Judge John A. Gibney Jr., sitting in Richmond, said in his ruling. "In essence, they played the game, lost, and then complained that the rules were unfair."
Candidates must collect 10,000 signatures, with at least 400 of them from each of the 11 congressional districts, and the signatures must be collected by state residents.
During the nearly four-hour hearing, Gibney said he thought the residency requirement was "likely to fall," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
But the judge said he was concerned about the remedy Perry and the other GOP hopefuls sought.
"I can't for the life of me see how to put them on the ballot if they don't have the [10,000] signatures," he said.
Timing was crucial. Officials at the State Board of Elections say they need to mail absentee ballots by Jan. 21 to get them out 45 days before the primary, as state law requires.
The candidates argued that but for the residency requirement they would have collected the required number of signatures. But the residency requirements and the need for 10,000 signatures was too big a roadblock, the Times-Dispatch said.
"Virginia has the most stringent ballot access requirements in the nation," argued Joseph Michael Nixon, a lawyer for Perry.
E. Duncan Getchell, Virginia's solicitor general, argued that, among other things, the candidates waited too long to challenge to the residency requirement, saying they should have sued before the ballot was decided.