Tomorrow is the Presidential primary election in Missouri – but it doesn’t count. Instead, caucuses that start on March 17th will select which GOP Presidential candidate Missouri backs. How did this come about? There is no short answer, and the answer will probably not satisfy anyone.
In 2010, the Republican National Committee (RNC) set new rules for the 2012 race that would punish any state, other than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Nevada, that had a primary or caucus before March 6, 2012. Any state that had a contest before that date would lose half its delegates at the national convention – meaning the state’s vote only counted for half of what it would otherwise. The RNC’s goal was to combat the trend of front-loading the primaries in which states moved them earlier and earlier.
The problem was that Missouri’s Presidential primary election was set for early February, as it had been since 2002 when the date was last changed. Unless something changed, the RNC would punish Missouri by stripping the state of half of its delegates.
In April 2011, the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill that would move the date of the Presidential primary. The new date for the election would be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March, which was the earliest date allowed by the RNC. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support: in the House by a vote of 137 to 11 and in the Senate 31 to 2.
In July, though, Governor Nixon vetoed the bill. There were two other election related changes, dealing with write-in candidates and special elections that the Governor objected to and killed the bill. Legislative leaders were upset because Gov. Nixon had not told anyone beforehand that he objected to these provisions.
When the General Assembly went into special session in early September, the change of the primary was on the agenda. The special session in 2011 did not go smoothly, however. In the first three days of the special session, the House passed the change by a vote of 147 to 2 and sent the bill to the Senate where it stopped. The House and the Senate were in disagreement over another bill and the Senate declined to address the election issue.
The RNC set a deadline of October 1st for states to let the national party know when their nominating contest would be. With the primary bill stuck in the Senate, the Missouri Republican Party (MRP) announced on September 30th that it would use a caucus to pick the GOP nominee in 2012. The party set the date for the first round of the caucus on March 17th so as to avoid punishment by the RNC.
In mid-October, the state Senate debated a number of proposals. There was one that would move the primary up to January, one would push it back to March (the original plan), and another would abolish it. Since the primary now would be a beauty contest and would not be binding, there was an effort to eliminate the primary in 2012 to save the state of Missouri roughly $7 million. The Senate voted to skip the primary, but the vote tied at 16 to 16, which failed to pass, thus keeping the primary in addition to the caucus.
Missouri’s primary is February 7th, but the Republican Presidential nominee will be selected at the March 17th caucus – if you are interested in the race then go to your caucus.