Republicans seek repeat of banner election year of '20

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With the first general election of the Roaring '20s, Republicans took simultaneous control of the legislative and executive branches in Missouri for the first time since Reconstruction.

But the brief era of unified government under GOP leadership ended in 1923 after just two years and hasn't since been repeated.

Although history is seemingly against Republicans accomplishing the feat in 2004, state party spokesman Scott Baker said the past is irrelevant to next year's elections.

"I think the political landscape has changed significantly in the last 10 years, let alone the last 80," Baker said. "I'd say that puts us in a very strong position to make history."

After 50-plus years as the minority party in the legislature, Republicans won a Senate majority in 2001 before taking over the House in 2003. They view Democratic Gov. Bob Holden as vulnerable in his re-election bid next year against the likely GOP challenger, Secretary of State Matt Blunt.

Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Mike Kelley puts more stock in the historical record, particularly since in the coming elections Republicans will have to defend the party's actions running the legislature.

"Their message, quite frankly, just isn't going to sell," Kelley said. "I'm not surprised Republicans haven't been in power since the 1920s."

The 1920 elections provided a banner year for Republicans, as they swept all statewide offices, retained control of the House and picked up the Senate. Gov. Arthur Mastick Hyde, who defeated Democrat John Morgan Atkinson of Doniphan, took office with his friendly legislative majorities in 1921.

Dr. David Leuthold, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Missouri at Columbia, said the state followed a national trend in 1920. The Republican slogan that year of a "return to normalcy" following World War I, resonated with voters, Leuthold said.

Fit the pattern

"With the country going Republican, Missouri just fit in that pattern," Leuthold said.

However, the party lost both legislative chambers two years later. Though they retained the governor's office for the remainder of the decade and reclaimed the House in 1925, voter backlash to the Great Depression knocked most Republicans from office by 1933.

The party rebounded in the 1940s and fell just one senator short of restoring their dominance of the two branches in 1943. The Senate that year was tied 17-17, but Lt. Gov. Frank Gaines Harris, a Democrat, handed his party chamber control in his role as Senate president.

Leuthold said recent Republican electoral successes certainly put them in a position to unify government in 2004. However, he noted that through most of the 1970s and 1980s, the party dominated the executive branch while Democrats steadfastly maintained control of the legislature.

"Having one does not mean you will get the other," Leuthold said.

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