Updated at 10:40 p.m. with comments from Kellyanne Conway and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley
SPRINGFIELD — The word “socialism” kept coming up at Missouri’s largest annual gathering of Republicans, called Lincoln Days, ahead of the 2020 election.
GOP speakers repeatedly warned the crowd of party activists and elected officials gathered in a Springfield convention center Friday and Saturday that Democrats were threatening American democracy as their party grows more comfortable with socialism.
Republicans pointed toward the leading candidate in the Democratic presidential nominating process, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as a sign that Democrats have gotten away from American values. Sanders has for decades identified as a democratic socialist.
“You can call him a socialist. He’s the frontrunner. He’s the standard-bearer for the party,” said Kellyanne Conway, one of President Donald Trump’s top advisers and the keynote speaker at the event Saturday night.
Republicans said it was imperative that President Donald Trump and Gov. Mike Parson win their 2020 elections to act as a backstop to the Democratic agenda. Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick called the 2020 contest “the most important election of our lives.”
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley told the crowd Saturday night: “The Democratic Party is poised to nominate an avowed socialist.”
Trump will run against whoever wins the Democratic nomination in November. Parson is expected to face State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, on the same ballot. All the other Republican state officials are also up for election this year, though it’s not clear whether all will have Democratic opponents.
Trump comfortably won Missouri in 2016 by nearly 19 points, but Missouri’s top Republicans said the party cannot be complacent.
It was only four years ago that Democrats controlled a good chunk of Missouri government, including the governor’s office. Former Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, held her seat less than two years ago. Republicans have to work together to make sure they remain in power, Parson said.
“We have to stay united,” he said.
The Republicans acknowledged they are in a position of strength going into 2020. All but one of the statewide officials, Galloway, is a member of the GOP. Many of them are young and hoping to be at the start of their political careers. Fitzpatrick mentioned that he is one of the youngest statewide elected officials in office in the country.
“The Democrats don’t have a bench in the state of Missouri,” Parson said.
The governor and other elected officials also used the two-day event to tout what they consider their successes.
Hawley and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said at a Saturday morning breakfast that one of the Trump administration’s biggest accomplishments is filling over a quarter of the federal judicial bench with young conservatives on lifetime appointments.
“The biggest thing we’ve done is decide to remake the federal court system,” Blunt said.
Blunt, as the Rules Committee chairman in the Senate, said he was able to push through a change to the Senate’s internal regulations that cut down on debate over some federal judicial appointees. The rule took away some of the Democrats’ ability to stall on confirming the judicial nominees that Trump put forward, he said. He also emphasized that the conservatives that are being put on the federal court are young and will serve for decades.
“Almost none are 50 or older,” Blunt said.
Hawley sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and helps vet the judges before confirmation. He said he is looking for people who are committed to protecting gun rights and opposing abortion.
“I expect our judges to believe in the right to life,” he said.
Parson took credit for Missouri’s strong economy when he spoke. He also emphasized his support of gun rights and opposition to abortion during that speech. Parson said more children are alive in Missouri today because of the abortion restrictions that were passed while he was governor and a legislator over the past 16 years.
The governor also went out of his way to mention that as a legislator he helped pass what’s called the “Castle Doctrine,” which can allow people to shoot a home intruder without facing legal repercussions.
Parson had come under criticism from gun rights advocates late last year, when he appeared to support minor gun restrictions sought by the mayors of Kansas City and St. Louis. He has since said he doesn’t support those restrictions.
“I have a lengthy record of supporting the Second Amendment and never, never, let me repeat, never going against the Second Amendment in my entire career,” Parson said.
Ashcroft announces reelection campaign
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced at the Lincoln Days dinner Friday night that he will be running for reelection. He was elected to the office in 2016.
Ashcroft said one of his priorities is to pass a new voter identification requirement after the state Supreme Court struck down part of a voter ID law that the Legislature had approved. Republicans in the General Assembly have already filed alternative voter ID requirements meant to replace the one that the court struck down.
“I don’t care what the Supreme Court said. We are pushing new legislation. It should be on the floor of the House next week,” Ashcroft said.
Reporter Jaclyn Driscoll contributed to this report.
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