ST. CHARLES, Missouri -- St. Charles County Republicans are getting a do-over Tuesday night for a botched presidential caucus, with Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the race introducing a new dynamic into the gathering.
The original caucus scheduled for March 17 in St. Peters descended into chaos amid rules disputes and claims of favoritism, and adjourned with police arresting two people. No delegates were selected.
This time, state Republican leaders are bringing in two top officials to help ensure a peaceful process. State party Chairman David Cole will serve as temporary chairman of the caucus until participants choose a caucus chairman. General counsel Harvey Tettlebaum will act as parliamentarian and oversee any rules disputes.
St. Charles County is Missouri’s third largest, behind only St. Louis and Jackson counties. And it is solidly Republican, making its caucus one of the most important in the state. But the county’s caucus last month turned ugly.
Supporters of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney were upset about county GOP Chairman Eugene Dokes’ decision to recognize only one nomination for caucus chairman, a Santorum supporter. Two Paul supporters were arrested for trespassing when they were allegedly told to leave but refused to do so. One of them tried to reconvene the caucus outside.
Some at the caucus also were upset when St. Charles County organizers banned the use of audio and video recording devices. Though each of Missouri’s local caucuses had autonomy to choose whether to allow recording, Cole said recording devices will be permitted Tuesday to help ensure transparency in the process.
The St. Charles County caucus will be the last of Missouri’s nearly 140 local caucuses. Local delegates will be sent to congressional district caucuses April 21 and a statewide convention in Springfield in June. The congressional and statewide events will choose most of the 52 Missouri delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Missouri is in the midst of a strange role in the presidential nominee selection process. The state hosted a nonbinding primary in February in which Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, was the overwhelming winner. Santorum opponents claimed the win was misleading because the other candidates barely campaigned, considering the primary little more than a straw poll. Still, the win in Missouri helped generate momentum for Santorum’s campaign.
However, that momentum has waned in recent weeks with Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, emerging as the clear front-runner. Santorum announced his decision to end his campaign about five hours before the rescheduled caucus was to reconvene at the St. Charles Convention Center.
Cole has said he favors a return to a binding primary for 2016 and anticipates leaders of both parties will consider a primary.
The reconvened caucus hasn’t eased all the tension among St. Charles County Republicans. County Councilman Joe Brazil has been critical of the state taking charge of the caucus, saying it is the county Republican Committee’s responsibility, not the state’s. And he has called on Dokes to resign.
Dokes has acknowledged mistakes in the initial caucus, including allowing just one nomination for chairman, but has refused to step down.