Twitter is blowing up Tuesday evening with news that Newt Gingrich -- newly ensconced in the front-runner class -- has failed to qualify for Missouri's Republican presidential primary, scheduled for Feb. 7, 2012. Big fail, right? Shows he's not a serious candidate for president, correct? Well, you might think so, until you learn the specifics.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the Gingrich campaign had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file "the necessary papers" and pay the necessary $1,000 to get on the ballot for this primary. We are reminded that Gingrich "is putting a campaign organization together on the fly," and that this contest's "filing requirements are not particularly onerous." It isn't until you've read four paragraphs that you learn the most important thing about the Missouri presidential primary:
Missouri's primary is a "beauty contest," meaning that no delegates will be awarded. The state Republican Party will hold caucuses in March for that purpose.
So why on earth is it even necessary for Gingrich's debt-laden campaign to spend $1,000 to participate in a meaningless contest? Well, inevitably, the results of the high-turnout, non-binding primary will be compared to the low turnout caucus scheduled later in the campaign, but that's just food for wild-eyed political speculators. The Los Angeles Times advances a different theory of why it's so important:
However, Missouri is a major state, and the nonbinding contest will be the only primary in the country between the Florida primary on Jan. 31 and the Arizona and Michigan primaries on Feb. 28. Candidates wishing to maintain their momentum, and media visibility, through that dry spell in February may well see Missouri as a place to compete for bragging rights.
The word "may" is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that paragraph, I think! But how will Newt Gingrich continue to get "media visibility" during that period of time? He'll use the CNN debate scheduled for Feb. 22, for a start. And it would hardly be surprising for the gap between Jan. 31 and Feb. 22 to get filled by another, currently unscheduled debate as well.
Beyond that, if Gingrich succeeds in the early primaries, as many suggest he could, then trust me, he's going to have plenty of what people call "momentum," and will receive lots of what people call "media visibility." If he fails in the early primaries, the Missouri primary isn't going to help him in any practical way, anyway.
I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I'd advise not getting caught up in the garment rending over this.
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