New Chairman Takes Control Of Missouri Republican Party That’s Riding High
For newly elected Missouri Republican Party Chairman Nick Myers, his primary goal as leader of the state GOP is pretty simple.
“My goal is to elect Republicans,” Myers said.
Myers, a certified public accountant from Newton County and longtime party insider, said Missouri Republicans are well positioned to defend a U.S. Senate seat and capture the state auditor’s office next year.
And based on the party’s off-the-charts performance in rural and exurban counties, those hopes appear within reach. Missouri Republicans have had four good election cycles in a row — most recently 2020, in which the party swept key statewide races and faced minimal losses to its supermajorities in the Missouri General Assembly.
There are plenty of theories behind Republican ascendency, including capturing bellwether areas like Jefferson County or historically Democratic turf in northeast and southeast Missouri. Myers points to how Missouri voters tend to be more conservative and are therefore more responsive to a party that embraces right-of-center ideas.
“I think that the Republican Party on the platform, and in general principles, is in sync with Missourians,” Myers said. “And when Missourians understand what the Republican platform and principles are, they will come out and vote for that.”
The biggest prize next year is the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Roy Blunt. He hasn’t officially said whether he’s running for a third term, but he’s accumulated about $1.7 million in his federal campaign account. It’s not out of the question that he could face a spirited primary, as former Gov. Eric Greitens delivered a notable nonanswer in an interview with Newsmax last week when asked if he would run for the Senate.
And former state Sen. Scott Sifton of south St. Louis County is one of several Democrats who are lining up to run for the seat.
Still, one key sign of whether the general election in Missouri will be competitive will be if national parties invest any money in the contest. In 2016, Democratic nominee Jason Kander received critical third-party support, but that required him to raise substantial amounts of money and for contests in other states to fall off the national parties’ radar. There’s no guarantee a similar scenario will happen next year.
“We are going to plan as though we are not a targeted state in that we're not going to rely on a whole bunch of outside efforts or support to come into the state,” Myers said. “We will need to develop the resources and the people power to win that seat.”
The other key contest on the ballot next year is the state auditor’s race. It’s typically difficult to defeat an incumbent statewide official, but Republicans believe Auditor Nicole Galloway’s unsuccessful gubernatorial run makes her vulnerable.
While no Republican has officially announced an auditor bids, potential contenders include state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and state Rep. David Gregory of Sunset Hills. Myers said GOP performance in the Senate race will play a big role in whether the auditor nominee can prevail.
No Trump card
There’s one huge difference between the 2022 election cycle and the last three: Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot or in office.
Both parties agree that Trump was one of the most impressive drivers of rural and exurban turnout in modern Missouri history. Some counties that Democrats contended in a few years ago, such as Jefferson, Ste. Genevieve and Buchanan, went for Trump in a landslide. That doomed people like Galloway, who needed to expand her voter base beyond St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Columbia.
Some Democrats, like Sifton, believe their party can return to competitiveness with Trump gone from the scene.
“What went wrong is we were in Missouri in 2020 with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Period. End of discussion,” Sifton said. “Every time you win big or every time you lose big you tend to overreact. And what I would say to Democrats in the state of Missouri: We have been here before.”
Still, there’s a major historical trend that could help Republicans next year: The president’s political party tends to do worse in the first midterm election after assuming the presidency. Myers believes Missouri voters will be motivated to turn out based on their distaste for President Joe Biden’s agenda.
“I think it’s going to be pretty high relief to be able to see the difference between the two,” Myers said. “And I would expect that we would follow the historical trend.”
Missouri Republicans had a triumphant election cycle in 2010 halfway through Barack Obama’s first presidential term. But they also managed to do well in 2018, a year when Democrats elsewhere gained ground amid Trump’s sagging national popularity.
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Michael Butler said last year that whether his party rises or continues to fall in the state will depend on whether Democrats can rebuild local parties that can help elect state legislative and statewide candidates.
“And we know we have just as much influence over what they believe their government and government officials should be working on and should be doing for them as the national party does,” Butler said.
Redistricting on the horizon
Another factor in whether Myers’ goal of winning elections is accomplished is how his party fares after redistricting.
Missouri has markedly different processes for congressional and state legislative redistricting. The Legislature draws the congressional map, while bipartisan commissions or, more likely, appellate judges will come up with state House and Senate districts. The process is going to start much later than usual this year because of a delay in getting Census data to states.
A special session is almost guaranteed to draw congressional maps, while it’s highly possible that state legislative maps may not be completed until the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.
This year marks the first time in generations that Republicans have entered the congressional redistricting cycle in control of the governorship and the General Assembly. That means the Democrats will have little leverage to affect the final product.
But discord among Republicans could make the process rocky. For one thing, there could be disagreement among Republicans on what to do with Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District. Some may want to include all of Jefferson County in the district, while others, like Sen. Bill Eigel of Weldon Spring, want to include all of St. Charles County.
“I think there has definitely been a move to put all of St. Charles in the same district,” Eigel said last year. “This may finally be the year in which that happens. And that makes sense, because being part of the largest Republican stronghold in the state, you want St. Charles to have that voice if you’re a Republican.”
It’s not out of the question that people like Eigel may also try to put all of St. Charles County in the 3rd Congressional District, which is currently represented by Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer.
While the state party doesn’t have a direct role in congressional redistricting, Myers noted that GOP congressional committees and the state party will supply nominees for the commissions. Gov. Mike Parson will ultimately select Republican and Democratic members of those commissions.
Myers also is hoping that the bipartisan commissions that get first crack at state legislative redistricting can come to consensus, but added it will likely be challenging since 14 out of 20 members must vote to approve a map. Myers was part of a House commission in 2011 that deadlocked, and a member of a second Senate commission that came up with a map under extreme time constraints.
“The Senate map is much easier to draw or envision because you're dealing mainly with whole counties,” Myers said.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum