In February, Missouri voters picked Rick Santorum as the winner of the state’s presidential primary. But the results didn’t count.
Infighting among Republicans in Jefferson City had left the state’s presidential primary date in violation of party rules. Missouri was at risk of losing delegates to the GOP national convention. So the primary went on as scheduled – but state GOP leaders declared that delegates would instead be awarded at caucuses. The first of those gatherings are Saturday.
But those votes may not count either.
- Want to know more about the caucus process? We walk you through it here:
Missouri holds caucuses every four years to discuss the party platform and pick delegates for district-level and state conventions. But this is the first time since 1996 that those delegates aren’t bound by the results of a primary.
"Yeah, this is a complicated process," says former Missouri Republican Party executive director John Hancock with a laugh.
"The original caucus meetings are county-level caucuses," he says. "Those caucuses will then send people to go to the congressional district caucuses that will be held in April. Those congressional district caucuses are the first time that actual delegates to the national convention will be chosen. The other half of the delegates will be chosen at the state convention, which will be held in Springfield in June."
Only delegates to the national convention are bound to an individual candidate, at least for the first round of balloting. So in other words, unless an individual county votes to changes its caucus rules, there's nothing for candidates to win in this first round. Nothing is final until June 2.
Keeping up the enthusiasm
But Lloyd Smith, the current executive director, says the Byzantine process and delayed results aren't impacting an eagerness to get involved.
"We're getting a lot of phone calls, and if phone calls equate to enthusiasm, which we kind of think it does, then you're going to have a lot of enthusiasm to be a part of the process," said Smith.
Republicans in St. Louis City hope that's true. They're planning for 300 people to attend their caucus on March 24, a week later than most to avoid conflicting with St. Patrick's Day. (Jackson County, in the Kansas City area, is also delaying its caucus until the 24th.)
It'll be the first one for Soulard resident Bill Leydig, a Ron Paul supporter and GOP committeeman from the 7th Ward.
"It's actually kind of a silly process," says Leydig, but he's participating to secure as many delegates as possible for Paul.
"I don't want to see another war in the Middle East, and I also don't want to see us go bankrupt," he said. "So somebody needs to do something, and I don't think anyone in Congress or the president or any of them are going to want to do it."
And he says Missouri’s 52 delegates will still be relevant by the time the results are finalized in June.
"From what I can tell so far, you've got four people who aren't going to leave the race," he said. "So this could really go to Tampa,and then you have a brokered convention, and then it's a free-for-all."
Smith won't go as far as saying he expects a brokered convention, but he agrees that Missouri will still be relevant. It's hard, though, to square that sentiment with the number of candidate visits to the state.
And because the county caucuses aren't binding, the party has no plans to immediately release the affiliations of the delegates who are selected.
"There probably won't be much of a momentum bump," says University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor David Robertson, an analysis that Smith acknowledges is accurate. "There may be some things that a candidate can claim as being a success, but because there's no verification, there really won't be much that a candidate can claim as far as a victory or defeat." There are 19 caucuses and primaries scheduled between March 18 and June 2.
Robertson says the Missouri GOP will end up with some egg on its face for the drawn-out and complicated nominating process, but says it won't impact one way or the other the state's 's role in the November general election.
"If the election is close, then it's going to be states like Ohio and Florida that attract most of the effort on the part of the candidates," he said. "If the election is leaning toward the Democrats, it may be that the Republicans are going to have to defend the state.
Ultimately, Robertson says, he expects the party will do what it can to return to the binding primary in 2016.