AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. - Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli crossed his own Republican Party on Friday in ruling that conservative former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, a potential spoiler in Virginia to Mitt Romney's presidential bid, can stay on the state's presidential ballot from the Constitution Party.
Goode, who served in the Virginia Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, an independent and then a Republican, is a candidate for president on the right-of-the-GOP Constitution Party ticket.
Earlier this month, the Republican Party of Virginia hired one of the state's most influential law and lobbying firms, McGuireWoods, in an effort to quietly persuade the State Board of Elections to bounce Goode from the ballot in the closely watched swing state.
"I'm happy that he made the decision that he did. It was the right thing to do," Goode said Friday in a telephone interview. "We got more than 20,000 signatures and any time you turn in that many signatures there are going to be some problems, but to try to keep me off the ballot?"
Virginia requires the signatures of at least 10,000 registered Virginia voters with a minimum of 400 from each of the state's 11 congressional districts.
Goode said he suspects the party's challenge was done at the instigation of the Romney campaign, fearful that Goode's votes will come from conservatives who otherwise would support Romney. There was no immediate reply Friday to telephone messages and emails seeking comment from Romney campaign officials in Virginia.
Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins said he was not surprised at Cuccinelli's decision, but downplayed the prospect that Goode could throw Virginia and its 13 electoral votes to President Barack Obama for the second election in a row this year.
"He'll take some away from Romney, but I don't think it's going to be enough to make a difference," Mullins said.
Goode's name will appear on the ballots of at least 29 states. He said he is eligible as a write-in candidate in several more.
The state party filed its complaint with the SBE on the Thursday before the long Labor Day holiday weekend, alleging irregularities in voter signatures and other paperwork Goode submitted to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot in Virginia.
Because of the irregularities, GOP attorney Chris Nolen contended in a State Board of Elections meeting hastily convened on Sept. 4, all of the more than 20,000 signatures Goode submitted should be void and he should be denied a spot on the ballot. The board's staff, however, had spent the long weekend poring over the documents and said the petitions were valid and should be allowed.
The GOP-ruled board rejected the party's request, even though two of its three members are Republicans, and allowed Goode on the ballot but asked Cuccinelli's office and the Virginia State Police investigate the party's claims further. The clean bill of health from Cuccinelli clears Goode's final obstacle.
Cuccinelli, a Republican competing with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year, had nothing to lose from allowing Goode onto the ballot. Like Goode, Cuccinelli looks to Virginia's tea party movement for a base of his support.
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