Republicans looking for candidate to fill seat

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cape Girardeau Republicans will have a strong advantage in the February election to replace Nathan Cooper but potential candidates aren't hurrying to take on the race.

During a meeting of the county's Republican Central Committee on Monday evening, Diane Diebold, vice-chairwoman of the committee, said no one has stepped up and told her they definitely want to run. The 158th District Legislative District Committee will choose the GOP nominee for the Missouri House seat Cooper resigned in the wake of his guilty plea to federal immigration fraud charges.

"We've had a lot of names floating around, but we haven't had somebody say I want it," Diebold reported to committee members.

One potential candidate, Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson, took his name out of contention Monday. Knudtson said he had been urged to make a bid by numerous people, including several Democrats, but he opted to stay in his current post after a day on the golf course with his 13-year-old son, Gunnar.

"I had a chance to play golf with my son and explained what the commmitment required," Knudtson. "He said, 'Dad, I don't want you to do it.' That made it a done deal, the easiest decision I ever made."

Gov. Matt Blunt on Friday set Feb. 5 as the special election day to replace Cooper and fill two other vacancies in the Missouri House. Missouri's presidential primary will be held the same day, as will primaries in many other states.

In 2000, the last time both parties had strongly contested presidential primary contests, 7,469 Republicans voted in Cape Girardeau County, compared to 2,045 Democrats. While that may be a hurdle difficult to overcome, any Democrat is going to have trouble winning a legislative seat in Cape Girardeau, said Lloyd Smith, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Cape Girardeau Republican. Smith is a sought-after strategist in GOP circles; in 2006, he took a leave of absence to run U.S. Sen. Jim Talent's losing bid for re-election.

"No matter what date you pick, the district leans Republican," Smith said.

Under state law, political party nominating committees must set a date for their meetings by Sept. 7. The nominees don't have to be selected by that date. The nominees must be selected and filed as candidates with the Missouri Secretary of State's office by Nov. 15.

After discussion of the possible date for the meeting, no consensus was reached, said Holly Lintner, chairwoman of the 158th District Legislative Committee.

County committees include a male and female member from every voting precinct. There are 20 current members of the GOP central committee, including Cooper, who have votes for the nominee. There are 12 vacant seats, and Lintner said she expects Cooper to resign.

The central committee must approve any appointments to fill vacancies, and while chairman John Voss said he is willing to consider adding members, they must be seeking to do more than just vote on the nomination for the special election.

"We need someone who is going to work to further the conservative values of the Republican Party," he said.

Monday night's meeting of the Republican Central Committee was the regular quarterly meeting. The Cape Girardeau County Democratic Central Committee will meet this evening at the County Administration Building.

The candidate needs to be someone dedicated to the community's interests, not their own ambitions, Voss said. After adding that he is speaking only for himself, Voss said he is "looking for someone who wants to be a public servant and not a politician."

Trustworthiness will be an important quality for anyone nominated by the GOP, Knudston said. The party, he said, needs "an individual that will restore respect and credibility to this office. In addition, this individual needs to make a complete commitment to building a relationship with the great citizens of Cape Girardeau."

Cape Girardeau County Republican Central Committee treasurer Pete Frazier, an assistant principal in Cape Girardeau schools, has said he is considering entering the race, and as of last night had not made a decision. Among Democrats, two potential candidates -- former postmaster Mike Keefe and attorney Matt Hill -- have said they are interested in possibly running for the office.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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