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Missouri Caucuses Muddy The Waters

Votes are tallying as people stand to vote for the Tea Party slate of candidates.
Frank Morris
Votes are tallying as people stand to vote for the Tea Party slate of candidates.

The path Missouri Republicans have taken in choosing a presidential nominee has been as twisty as an Ozark mountain road. The caucus phase starts in the Ozark foothills of southwest Missouri.Cassville, Missouri sits in the hills near the Arkansas line. During the Civil War, the Confederate state legislature set up here briefly, and battles raged nearby.

The Republican presidential caucus here Wednesday evening, drew a big, enthusiastic crowd.   Organizers put out extra chairs. David Cole, who’s from Cassville, but also happens to be the Republican State Chairman said the crowd was 10 times the size of any previous Republican caucus in the county.    

Enthusiasm Turns to Anger

The enthusiasm was quickly strained. Many here expected to vote on presidential candidates.   Instead, Cole told them, they’d be voting on delegates to state and regional conventions who would, in turn choose delegates to represent Missouri at the National Convention.   The delegates, chosen that night, he admitted, would not be tied to any particular candidate. What’s more, he said the night’s voting would be for slates of delegates, not individuals, but groups of 28.   

Frank Hubert, a robust 80-year-old in a blue blazer and tie was one of many to stand up and vent.

“What we have had happen here tonight is totally unacceptable, and it is a de facto rail road job!   Not that I’m pointing any fingers at anybody.   But that does not help the process, it destroys it,” said Hubert.

Caucus-goers Feel Disaffected

Only the County GOP officials, and a group representing the Tea Party had slates of delegates ready, leaving many others feeling utterly cut out of the process.

“At this stage of the caucus, it is a little disheartening to see how just a few people are still running it. And I feel like I am lost in the commotion,” said voter Roberta Grey.

The room was sharply divided between Tea Party supporters and the GOP faithful.   Some likened it to congress, an unpopular institution, especially in Cassville, Mo.  

Ralph Kelley, a retired engineer stepped out for a smoke.

“I think that we should vote the Tea Party out of the Republican Party,” said Kelley.   “I think they are splitting the vote, and that Obama will win as a consequence.”

Tea Party folks weren’t happy either.

“I think it’s a joke.  I think every bit of this is a joke,” said Teresa Petty, who was also smoking.   “I don’t feel like we’re being listened to, in anyway what so ever,” said Petty.

Others, like Brian Andelin, a slender white-haired rancher headed for home.

“258 people or more came here tonight wanting to express their voice, and they are very confused,” said Andelin.

No Organized Party

That feeling’s well understood in Springfield, Mo., in the sunny offices of the political science department at Missouri State University.

“The process is chaotic, I mean I think one word we could use is bizarre,” said  Professor George Connor. He notes that Missouri Republicans have already voted in a presidential primary this year.

“We had a primary which became a beauty contest. A million dollar primary that didn’t county for anything,” said Connor.

The primary last month was early, and unauthorized.   The national party threatened to ding Missouri for half its delegates, so the results (a convincing victory for Rick Santorum) didn’t count, and the caucuses were organized.  


Well, organized might be a little strong, Connor says the rules differ from county to county.  

“The old joke was, “I don’t belong to an organized party. I’m a Democrat,” said Connor.   “I think we’ve turned that joke on its head here in Missouri. Where, even though the party establishment might be lined up behind one particular candidate, the party establishment doesn’t have the clout that it did 10 or 15 years ago in order to dictate the outcome.”

Results are Weeks Away

Back at the Barry County Republican caucuses in Cassville, the Barry County Republican Party managed to pull off a win over the insurgent Tea Party.   That means the delegates from this steadfastly conservative town will likely back Mitt Romney. But for now that’s really anybody’s guess. 

The winning delegates in these caucuses won’t pick the actual delegates who will represent Missouri at the National Convention until subsequent meetings in April, and June.   It may be summer before a clear result emerges from the Missouri Republican presidential caucuses.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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