Just weeks before a divisive Missouri GOP fight, state Republican Party chairman Ed Martin has announced he will not seek re-election. Instead he plans to take over as the new president of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, a longstanding conservative group.
But Martin’s announcement may not clear the path for John Hancock, a fellow St. Louisan and prominent political consultant, to take over as state party chairman.
Republican sources say that Eddy Justice, the party chairman in Dent County and of the 8th congressional district, is considering a bid for the top party post.
Hancock said in a telephone interview that he was not yet aware of anyone else seeking the state party chairmanship. He was quick to praise Martin as “a talented and committed conservative.”
The 68 members of the Missouri Republican Party’s governing board are expected to choose a new state party chairman on Feb. 21, during the party’s annual Lincoln Days festivities. This year’s event is in Kansas City.
A fight for the post could divert attention away from the event’s high-profile speakers – including 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Santorum – and Republican successes in last fall’s elections.
Martin, a St. Louis lawyer, has been under fire for months because of the state GOP’s fiscal woes. The latest campaign reports showed the state party with less than $250 in the bank, with its federal arm – used to aid congressional campaigns -- showing $40,000 of debt.
But Martin’s critics had sought to tread lightly because of his close ties to tea-party activists and other conservative groups, including the Eagle Forum. Martin had won the GOP chairmanship in 2013, gaining support from disgruntled Republicans angry over their candidates' poor statewide showing in 2012, despite Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's huge edge that fall among Missouri voters.
Martin had been one of those losing candidates in his failed bid for Missouri attorney general. He lost badly to Democratic incumbent Chris Koster. Martin, who resides in south St. Louis. earlier had narrowly lost a 2010 bid for Congress.
Martin said in a statement that he was thrilled with the state party’s success during his two years as chairman, as well as last November’s victories by Republicans around the country. “The crushing defeat of Big Government and Crony 'Capitalist' politicians in the 2014 election demonstrated that our party had a message worth running on -- a winning message,” he said.
Martin then pointed to his longstanding work with Schlafly and her group, Eagle Forum, which was founded in the 1970s during her successful fight against the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
“Eagle Forum is still a leading organization in the fight against the tyrannies of this age large and small,” Martin wrote. “I have been honored and humbled this weekend to learn that the board of Eagle Forum and Phyllis Schlafly have asked me to be president of this amazing organization. After a great deal of prayer, I have accepted the post.”
Missouri's state party chairmen traditionally act as high-profile salesmen for the parties' candidates and causes. The chairmen also oversee party fundraising, with the money usually going for get-out-the-vote efforts and other activities that benefit the party's entire ticket.
Even some of Martin's critics privately laud his move, noting that he long has been outspoken on national issues -- the primary focus of the Eagle Forum, as well.