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Ron Paul allies claim victory at St. Louis GOP caucus, send pro-Paul slate to April's Round 2

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 24, 2012 - Supporters of renegade Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul successfully took over the Saturday morning caucus in St. Louis and now will send a full slate of pro-Paul delegates and alternates to the next round of Missouri's GOP caucuses in April.

Paul's backers controlled the city caucus’ procedures, and votes, by amassing more than half of the 291 registered voters who showed up at Forest Park Community College to participate.

Saturday’s success, coupled with earlier caucus victories elsewhere in the state, could help Paul snag some Missouri delegates to the Republican presidential convention in August in Tampa – even though the Texas congressman won only 12.1 percent of the vote in Missouri’s nonbinding Feb. 7 presidential primary.

Not all of Saturday’s attendees were happy with the prospect. Martin Baker, a Republican candidate for Congress and not a Paul fan, loudly objected to many parts of Saturday’s proceedings once the Paul faction took over.

Although Saturday’s caucus lasted about 90 minutes, the Paul faction’s victory was cast within the first 15 minutes, when its candidate for caucus chairman, John Payne, narrowly defeated St. Louis Republican Party chairman, Sharon Barnes.

The next hour was spent haggling over three proposed slates of 36 delegates and an equal number of alternates. One was a pro-Paul slate, another was a city GOP slate and the third was a slate for Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney.

None of the speakers for the slates mentioned whom they supported for president, angering some first-time caucus attendees who asserted at the microphones that they deserved to know which slate was for whom.

Payne emphasized that the first-round delegates will officially go uncommitted to the congressional-district round, but Paul activists on the sidelines made clear they expected their slate – formally known as the “St. Louis City Republicans Slate’’ – would back Paul.

The city’s Republican caucus is among the last in the first round of a three-tier caucus system to dole out presidential delegates and determine who they will be.

Payne is campaign manager for Show Me Cannabis Regulation, a group seeking to legalize marijuana. He said in an interview after the caucus that of the 20 caucuses last Saturday that he was familiar with, up to 10 of them had a majority of Paul activists in attendance.

All told, about 140 caucuses were held last weekend in counties around the state.

St. Louis and Jackson County held their caucuses this Saturday, because last Saturday was St. Patrick's Day, and both urban areas had parades.

The Paul forces also did well in Jackson County, capturing roughly two-thirds of the first-round delegate spots, according to press accounts.

Payne acknowledged that caucuses can be more difficult for a candidate's campaign to handle. Caucuses, he said, are “a messy business."

Looking around the room where the St. Louis caucus had been held, Payne added with a chuckle, "At least no one got arrested.”

He was referring to last Saturday’s fracas in St. Charles County, which resulted in the caucus being shut down shortly after it began. Police were called to quell the unrest, which appeared to originate with disputes between Paul's allies and St. Charles County Republican leaders. Two were arrested. A redo is scheduled for April 10.

City GOP chairman Barnes was philosophical about the Paul group’s victory at this Saturday’s caucus.

“We knew it was going to happen,” she said, when it was clear early on that so many pro-Paul activists had shown up. She also pointed to the action by Romney's faction to put up a third slate of delegates, splitting the anti-Paul contingent.

“It’s the same as an election,” Barnes observed. “Who can turn their people out?”

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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