(Updated 10:30 p.m. Saturday)
Kansas City - President Barack Obama has Democratic company – just-announced U.S. Senate hopeful Jason Kander – as Missouri Republicans’ favorite verbal punching bag.
That was evident throughout this weekend’s annual Reagan-Lincoln Days, held this year in Kansas City.
At Friday's opening banquet, outgoing state GOP party chairman Ed Martin contended that Kander was “pro-abortion, against our families.”
House Speaker John Diehl asserted that Kander, now Missouri secretary of state, “turns a blind eye to voter fraud in this state.”
And U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, referred to an unnamed Kander as “another puppet for Obama in this state.”
The one official who didn’t mention Kander was the man he hopes to defeat – incumbent U.S. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Blunt stayed focused on Obama, whom the senator jabbed, again and again. Among other things, the senator accused the president of behaving as an emperor or king, and of being incompetent in domestic affairs and foreign policy.
Blunt’s verbal barrage included his pointed query to the crowd: “What’s the difference between God and Obama?”
The answer, Blunt quipped, was that “God doesn’t think he’s Obama.” The inference was that the president believes he’s the Almighty.
The keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., continued the anti-Obama attacks. She was particularly critical of the president’s approach to terrorism and the Middle East.
Ayotte said that the president’s pledge, as a candidate, to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay was “a misguided campaign promise.”
She then asked the crowd, “How many of you believe we’re at war with radical Islam?”
After most of her audience raised their hands, Ayotte contended that Obama apparently disagrees – which she said was putting the nation at risk.
“Weakness invites aggression,’’ Ayotte added.
The focus on Obama and Kander appeared to distract the hundreds of attendees from internal contests that could threaten GOP harmony.
In particular: the growing tension between the announced candidates for governor in 2016: notably state Auditor Tom Schweich and former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway. The two were among the candidates hosting hospitality suites Friday night.
Saturday night, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012 -- continued the focus on Obama, but with a twist.
Santorum quipped that Obama was so unpopular overseas that the country of Kenya, his father's birthplace, was "developing evidence that he was actually born in America."
But Santorum warned that Obama's standing was improving at home because, as polls showed, he fit the quest of many average Americans to find someone who cares about them.
Santorum asserted that the GOP had been losing presidential elections because the party and its candidates focus more on "job creators," and not enough for average workers.
"We talk about entreprenuers, we talk about growth," Santorum said, when that pitch directly affects only the 10 percent of Americans who run businesses.
"We're stuck with a tired message," Santorum said, that focuses too much on tax cuts and not enough on protecting jobs. The Republican Party has an opportunity, he continued, because "the Left has abandoned the American worker. What are we waiting for?"