G.O.P. Chaos at Caucus in Missouri
(New York Times) BRUNSWICK, Mo. — Mitt Romney and his advisers pride themselves on vigorously pursuing every delegate in every corner of the country in their quest to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
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That was not the case here at the Railyard Steakhouse, where Republicans convened their Chariton County caucus on Thursday evening. They voted to pledge their full share of delegates to Rick Santorum — without a word of objection from the Romney campaign.
The Republicans here were simply following the results of the February primary, which Mr. Santorum won by 30 percentage points. The Romney campaign argued that the contest was meaningless because no delegates were at stake.
Yet Mr. Santorum’s victory has had a lingering effect. This became clear here in Brunswick, a small town about two hours east of Kansas City, which offered a peek into the process that will unfold across Missouri on Saturday when Republicans convene caucuses to begin the arduous process of selecting delegates in the presidential campaign.
A quirk of election law makes Missouri the only state this year to essentially allow voters to take two attempts at choosing their favorite candidate. The first came during a primary in February, which was dismissed as a beauty contest, but one that gave Mr. Santorum a boost of momentum. The second comes on Saturday.
In Brunswick, where Republicans decided to hold their caucuses two days early, the first question of the evening was whether to bind delegates to results of the primary. The measure passed by a wide margin and with no discussion, sending four delegates on behalf of Mr. Santorum and none for Mr. Romney or Representative Ron Paul of Texas, to the district convention in April and to the state convention in June.
“All of our county delegates will be bound to the popular vote for Chariton County,” said Andrea Rice, the county Republican chairwoman, who presided over the meeting and reminded caucusgoers that Mr. Santorum had carried the county by 58 percent.
A handful of people wearing shirts for Mr. Paul did not openly object, but chatted quietly among themselves and voted against the measure to bind the delegates. No one challenged the proposal on behalf of the Romney campaign, but Ms. Rice said a local Romney supporter was in the room.
A spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party said that all counties had the option to use Mr. Santorum’s victory in the primary as a starting point in their selection of delegates if they chose. The Romney campaign said that it would push back against using the primary result, but there was no such rebuttal offered here in Brunswick, where a reporter dropped by unannounced.
Mr. Santorum, who visited Missouri on Friday and is set to be on hand at two caucus locations on Saturday morning, is making a robust effort to win the majority of the state’s 52 delegates. It is part of the campaign’s county-by-county strategy to try to outflank Mr. Romney and catch him in the delegate race.
The proceedings on the second floor of the Railyard Steakhouse drew 33 Republicans, all of whom were asked to present their driver’s licenses as they signed their names in a show of support for a voter identification law in the state.
Mr. Santorum’s strength became clear in conversations with voters as they sliced their prime rib and grilled pork chops at a dinner that preceded the caucus. There were signs or banners for Santorum — or for any of his rivals — but several people said that he was the strongest conservative in the race.
“I like his values. He’s one of us,” said Duane Leimkuehler, 53, a farmer of corn, wheat and soybeans. He was elected as a delegate and said that he would represent his county proudly at the district and state conventions, He also said he was focused on defeating President Obama and eager for the Republican race to conclude.
“Mitt Romney is not my first choice. He’s getting support solely because he’s the front-runner,” Mr. Leimkuehler said. “But we’ve got to unite at some point.”
The outcome of the caucus here was not necessarily representative of the gatherings to be held on Saturday.
The Romney campaign is concentrated on finding its base of support in suburban St. Louis and Kansas City, where the candidate visited earlier in the week.
In Brunswick, Harry Deweese, a construction company owner who was elected as a delegate, arrived wearing a white Ron Paul Revolution T-shirt. Before the business meeting began, his wife whispered to him, and he walked downstairs. He returned a few minutes later with a long-sleeved, collared blue shirt covering the Paul one, saying he was fearful of not becoming a delegate if he “looked like a Paul supporter.”
He said that he had never been active in politics and had hoped to represent Mr. Paul, whose views on government spending and foreign policy he supported. But he would follow the wishes of the county, he said, in its support for Mr. Santorum, whom he called “my second choice.”
He paused when asked if he would support Mr. Romney if he became the Republican nominee. Finally, he replied: “He’s a Republican Obama. He’s just like what we already have.”
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