SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – From U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt on down, Missouri Republicans at the party’s annual Lincoln Days festivities are full of confidence about their chances at the polls this fall and in 2016.
And the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,’’ is getting much of the credit.
“If this disaster doesn’t help us take control of the Senate, it will surprise me,” said Blunt, who sparked several ovations at Friday night’s opening banquet of the weekend gathering, held this year at the University Plaza Hotel in Springfield, the senator's home turf.
On Saturday, Republicans held a special session to discuss what they see as the problems with Obamacare, and the political boost they believe it will provide to their candidates this fall. A handful of protesters calling for expansion of Medicaid, as sought by the ACA, waved pickets on a nearby sidewalk.
State Republicans predict that the public’s anger over the health insurance law, and other federal missteps, could trickle down and bolster already huge GOP majorities in the Missouri House and Senate.
But top Republicans repeatedly warn that one threat could doom their rosy scenario: costly primaries pitting various GOP factions against each other.
“Democrats are absolutely imploding,’’ said U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, as he related to his audience a recent conversation with a party pollster.
But the pollster added a warning, the congressman said. "Their biggest asset is us -- a divided Republican Party.”
Declared Luetkemeyer to the crowd: “We have to unite. We have to realize that the big picture is what we need to focus on.”
To some, such pleas were aimed at what’s already emerging as combative primaries for several offices in 2016, notably for governor and attorney general.
Former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway announced her candidacy for governor a couple of weeks ago. State Auditor Tom Schweich, who is running for re-election this fall, is expected to seek the job as well. Both are visible this weekend, with Schweich hosting an ice cream social on Saturday and Hanaway's campaign offering granola bars in attendees' goody bags.
Lincoln Days also has attracted a potential third Republican hopeful in the gubernatorial mix: wealthy St. Louis County businessman John Brunner, who made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Brunner held court Friday night at a hospitality suite that -- along with cookies -- featured a banner declaring, “Friends of Brunner – the people’s choice.”
Brunner said in an interview that he was simply showing up to display his support for the Republican Party, and not ready to announce any candidacy. “I’m volunteering to stay in the fight,’’ Brunner said. “I’m here to stay and to help.”
Hanaway to resign RNC post
Meanwhile, Hanaway told reporters after the banquet that she didn’t believe the unity message was directed at her or any rivals. Nor does she view primaries as divisive.
“We’re Republicans, which means we value individual efforts,’’ she said. Unity was more important, Hanaway added, after the party’s voters choose a nominee.
In any case, Hanaway has no plans to drop out. “I am 100 percent committed to running for governor,’’ she said.
On Saturday, as expected, Hanaway announced during a meeting of the state GOP’s executive committee, that she was resigning as a Missouri representative to the Republican National Committee, as of May. Hanaway said she wasn’t required to do so but thought that it was proper since she now is running for office.
Like most of the GOP’s top officials and potential candidates, Hanaway said she planned to spend the Lincoln Days weekend networking. “These are the pre-eminent grassroots organizers from throughout the state,’’ she said.
As for Schweich, he was refraining from any mention of 2016 and emphasizing his re-election effort this fall. Still, the hotel halls were filled with his campaign volunteers sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "I like Schweich."
During his brief Friday-night banquet speech, Schweich took a few verbal swipes at Democrats in Washington – calling President Barack Obama “the most incompetent president ever” – while also offering his recipe for Republican victories this fall.
“We have to be the party of integrity. We have to be the party of competence,’’ Schweich said. “We have to be the party of discipline.”
Promoting all three, he asserted, “equals victory.”
House Majority Leader John Diehl, who served as the banquet's emcee, exhorted all Republicans to remember their chief objective -- to win. "Keep in mind that we are one team,'' said Diehl, R-Town and Country. "Whoever we select for these positions is better than the alternative."
Some Republicans said privately that their party should take aim solely at the likely Democratic nominee for governor in 2016, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a former Republican. Koster, they said, should be characterized as "a show horse,'' while the GOP nominee -- whoever it is -- could be cast as "a work horse."