By Kelsey Ryan
Caucuses today in Iowa will launch the Republican presidential nomination season, but Missouri voters will wait for more than a month — Feb. 7 — to weigh in on the candidates. The state’s presidential preference primary is Feb. 7, and the Republican caucuses start March 17.
Even then, it appears that voters’ choices in a primary that will cost taxpayers $8 million will have little relevance.
National party rules dictate that only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada can hold presidential nominating contests before March 6. States that violate that rule have been threatened with the loss of half of their delegates to the national conventions. Other penalties, such as fewer guest passes to the conventions, also have been considered.
Missouri law mandates that a presidential primary be held. During the regular session in 2011, the General Assembly passed legislation (Senate Bill 282) that called for moving the date of the presidential primary to March to comply with the rules of the national Republican and Democratic parties.
Gov. Jay Nixon said he supported that change. But, the bill also contained provisions that would have eliminated write-in candidates in many municipal elections and would have imposed costs for taxpayers to hold special elections. Because of those additional provisions, Nixon vetoed the bill. So, the primary remains scheduled for Feb. 7.
While state law sets up the primary, it does not say that the results must be used to assign delegates for particular candidates. It says only that the results of the primary must be reported to the state parties. The responsibility of selecting delegates to the national conventions is left up to the parties. That is to be done at caucuses around the state, and ultimately at the parties’ district and state conventions.
County caucuses are scheduled for March 17. Participants will select delegates to the congressional district and state conventions, where delegates will be chosen to attend the national conventions.
The irrelevance of the presidential preference primary and the $8 million price tag for conducting it has local Republican Party members encouraging voters to turn out for the March caucus.
“My biggest thought is that it’s a lot of money to spend for a straw poll,” said John Putnam, chairman of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee. “We had to go back to the caucus system this year because of several things beyond our control. (The primary is) informative, but $8 million is too much to spend on the luxury of a straw poll.”
Jordan Overstreet, executive director of the Southwest Missouri Democratic Coordinated Campaign, agreed.
“People in Missouri can probably find a better use for $8 million than for a primary that’s merely symbolic,” he said.
Another factor is that not all of the Republican hopefuls will be on the primary ballot. Newt Gingrich, for example, will not be listed. And, some who are on the ballot, such as Herman Cain, are no longer running.
Putnam said Cain had garnered strong support from the GOP in Jasper County, with more than 50 percent backing him in the organization’s last straw poll, so he’s interested in seeing new trends in the organization’s next poll.
The location of the Republican caucus for Jasper County has not yet been determined as officials are looking for an auditorium large enough to handle what is expected to be a large turnout, Putnam said.
“We want people to stay alert for announced location of the caucus on March 17. That’s where they can really influence the election more than the primary,” Putnam said.
The Jasper County Democratic caucus will be held March 29. The location has not yet been determined.
“Even though we have the incumbent president, it’s important to help engage people in the grass-roots movement and get people actively involved in the presidential year,” Overstreet said. “The caucus as well helps determine who is a delegate and who gets into the national convention and mobilize a base, so it still serves a purpose.”
It’s important for people to understand that with presidential politics, it’s a two-stage election procedure, said William Delehanty, assistant political science professor at Missouri Southern State University.
“Primaries and caucuses serve as ways for citizens to choose nominees who will run in the political process in both parties, and to empower citizens about who will run in the second phase, which is the general election,” he said. “Primaries serve as a mechanism for citizens to express their preferences for president, and they were originally designed to remove the choices of the political party bosses and put that into the hands of citizens.”
Delehanty said caucuses are a variant of primaries, and that although Missouri’s presidential preference primary is expensive, it’s still a mechanism to allow residents to express their views.
The Iowa caucuses get a lot of attention in election years, Delehanty said, because many think of Iowa as “a microcosm of urban and rural interests.”
“Any one primary or caucus is not necessarily a good predictor of the ultimate winner or nominee because there are many primary states that candidates have to win,” he said. “The Iowa caucus has a history of producing results of who is going to win each party, but it’s not a guarantee.
“I’m thinking at this point, it looks as if (Mitt) Romney will be the nominee for Republicans because he’s the most articulate and is the candidate with the greatest likability.”
For the general election, Barack Obama is an incumbent president with a lot of money and resources, Delehanty said.
“Obama might be able to win a second term depending on how powerful and strong the Republicans are,” he said. “(Republicans) need to unify to show a united front against Obama. The unique thing about Romney is he has the ability to pull independents away from Obama because he’s still perceived as moderate against some of the other candidates who are running.”
A total of 15 candidates have filed for U.S. president on the Feb. 7 primary ballot.
Democrats on the Missouri ballot are Barack Obama, Randall Terry, Darcy G. Richardson and John Wolfe.
Republican candidates are Gary Johnson, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Michael J. Meehan, Rick Perry, Keith Drummond, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. The Libertarian candidate on the ballot is James Orland Ogle III. No candidate has filed from the Constitution Party.
The Oklahoma presidential preference primary is scheduled for March 6 (Super Tuesday), with early voting on March 2, 3 and 5.
Democrats who have filed for the primary are Barack Obama, Bob Ely, Randall Terry, Jim Rogers and Darcy G. Richardson. Republicans who have filed are Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman.
Gov. Sam Brownback signed HB 2080, a bill that essentially eliminates the presidential preference primary until 2016. Republicans will caucus on March 10. To vote in the Kansas Republican caucus, voters must be registered Republicans on or before Feb. 17.
Republican candidates who have filed in Kansas are Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.
The Kansas Democratic caucus will be held April 14.