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Missouri Republican Party sticks with its plan to ignore Feb. 7 primary

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 28, 2011 - Despite all the Republican presidential jockeying in Iowa and elsewhere, the Missouri Republican Party says it's sticking with its decision to ignore the results of the state's still-scheduled Feb. 7 presidential primary.

Absentee balloting began Tuesday.

State GOP executive director Lloyd Smith recalled in a statement why the party's executive panel decided last September to revert back to a caucus system for awarding the state's Republican delegates to the various presidential hopefuls. That process will begin in March.

"To ensure that Missouri is in compliance with RNC rules, last fall, the Missouri Republican Party made the decision to move to a caucus system for the purpose of selecting delegates," said Smith. "These rules remain in effect, and our priority continues to be maintaining Missouri's full delegate strength at the national convention."

The state GOP made that decision to comply with the mandate of both major parties that states act by early October to comply with the parties' rules that allow only four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- to hold primaries before March 1. Penalties were to be imposed on violators.

The Missouri General Assembly tried and failed twice to move the state's Feb. 7 primary to March. But in the meantime, several other states have ignored the parties' requirements and also are holding February primaries -- the main reason Iowa and New Hampshire moved up their events to early January.

The national parties appear to backing off from any penalties. But so far, the Missouri GOP is sticking with its plan.

UPDATE: A Republican National Committee spokesman said Wednesday that, contrary to the talk, the RNC does plan to follow through with punishing those states that violate the rules by holding their primaries or caucuses too early. So far, five states -- New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Michigan -- are slated to lose half their delegates, said RNC spokesman Ruan Tronovitch.

Before the presidential conventions in 2008, though, the national parties did back off.

That's definitely true this time for the Democratic National Committee, which has opted not to penalize the state party and its delegates, after buying local Democrats' argument that the state Republican legislators were to blame for the General Assembly's failure to pass a special-session measure moving the primary. Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed the bill that passed during last spring's regular session, because of unrelated provisions. End update

On the surface, reverting to the state's old caucus setup could help former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, since he has the largest bloc of support from Missouri's top Republicans.

But a caucus victory often goes to the best-organized -- which could help GOP renegade Ron Paul, ;whose supporters overwhelmed several Missouri caucus sites in 2008. Their success was blunted because the state Republican Party used the primary results to award the delegates, and Paul didn't fare well in the statewide vote.

But if the statewide vote isn't supposed to count, a well-organized crowd of caucus-goers for Paul or another of Romney's rivals could presumably wreck havoc on the pro-Romney forces' plans to snag most of the delegates.

Just ask Bob Dole's allies in 1996, many of whom fell victim to the political ambush mounted by then-GOP challenger Pat Buchanan. That 1996 episode is what prompted the Missouri Republican Party to revert to a statewide primary in 2000.

Smith played down any concerns. Asked about the potential problem with Paul, he said, "All Republicans are welcome to participate in their local GOP caucuses. We encourage every Missouri Republican, regardless of whom they support, to make their voice heard in our state's nominating process."

The Missouri Democratic Party hasn't said much, especially after getting the quiet DNC go-ahead regarding the Feb. 7 primary. President Barack Obama is the presumed favorite among the four candidates who had filed by the state's Nov. 22 deadline. The only other well-known contender among the president's Democratic rivals is anti-abortion activist Randall Terry.

Meanwhile, despite the state GOP's decision, 10 Republican hopefuls have filed as Feb. 7 presidential primary candidates -- presumably hedging their bets, in case the party and its leaders change their minds.

If that happens, the odd man out could be Republican Newt Gingrich, the one major Republican contender who failed to file in Missouri. But he has maintained that he opted out of Missouri's primary on purpose, because he's taking the state party at its word. 

Presumably, Gingrich -- who for now has no major Missouri backers -- still plans to play in the state's caucuses.

Gingrich's campaign is involved in battles in other states -- notably Ohio and his current home state of Virginia -- where he also has missed the filing deadline. Depending on how those battles play out, Gingrich may or may not have been smart when it comes to Missouri.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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