Democrats united on Kerry, not governor

Sunday, April 18, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As Missouri Democrats gathered Saturday at their state convention, the focus was on picking the final delegates who will formally nominate U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts as the national party's candidate for president.

While unified in the goal of ousting Republican President George W. Bush, there is a split within the party concerning who should lead the top of the Democratic ticket in Missouri -- incumbent Gov. Bob Holden or State Auditor Claire McCaskill, Holden's challenger in the Aug. 3 primary.

Judging by the campaign stickers sported by most members of the 8th Congressional District's delegation to the state convention, Holden retains the loyalty of most of Southeast Missouri's Democratic faithful.

James Tharp of Scott City said a primary fight could prove damaging to the party.

"We're in some trying times right now," Tharp said. "I think we all need to stick together as tightly as we can to the pursue the issues we are fighting for. I think Governor Holden is the man for that job."

Although he would prefer that McCaskill wasn't running, Paul Allee of Jackson said the strong leadership Holden has provided during his first term will allow him to overcome the challenge unharmed for a general election contest against Secretary of State Matt Blunt, the likely Republican gubernatorial nominee.

"Whatever wounds might be opened will be healed," Allee predicted.

Donna Rawson of Park Hills, one of the few 8th District delegates openly displaying her support for McCaskill, said she isn't dissatisfied with Holden and will vote for him in November should he win the primary. However, she thinks McCaskill would be a better governor.

"I'm not opposed to anything Holden has done or has not done," Rawson said. "I just feel Claire McCaskill best represents my interests."

Although none of the convention speakers directly addressed the issue, there were subtle hints.

Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell urged Democrats to consider what the past two years under a Republican-controlled legislature would have been like if the GOP also controlled the executive branch.

"I want you to think how terrible and miserable we'd be today at this convention if we didn't hold the governor's office," Maxwell said. "We have someone in that office who has been holding the line every day."

A letter distributed to delegates from former state party chairman Joe Carmichael of Springfield urged them to remember what Holden has accomplished during his long political career.

"Now, there are some who want to remove him from the 'official' slate for re-election on the November ballot," Carmichael wrote. "I feel terrible about this and think a kind word from you would let him know that you understand the hard work he has done on behalf of our party, as well as the citizens of Missouri."

Holden briefly addressed the convention, urging them to work hard to get Kerry elected president, to retain Democratic dominance of Missouri's statewide elected offices and to win back the Missouri Legislature.

"George Bush has led this country down the wrong path, and the Republican Party in Missouri is trying to do the same," Holden said.

McCaskill wasn't invited to speak. In an interview, Holden said the reason was simple: He's governor, and McCaskill isn't.

Although she greeted delegates earlier, McCaskill left before the convention's main events and went to Kansas City.

"If it's not going to be fair, you just pick up and you take your message elsewhere," said McCaskill campaign spokesman Glenn Campbell, who remained behind at the convention.

Although he supports the governor, Carter County Presiding Commissioner Gene Oakley of Van Buren said she should have been allowed a convention role.

"If it was strictly for political motives, I find that distasteful," Oakley said. "I don't think that is in the interests of the party."

88 delegates

Missouri will send 88 delegates to the Democratic National Convention this July in Boston. Some of those delegates are committed on the first ballot to U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who has dropped out of the race since claiming delegates in Missouri's presidential primary in February.

Most of the delegates were chosen locally in Missouri's nine congressional districts. The convention elected 16 at-large delegates and five alternates. Brenda Woemmel of Cape Girardeau was chosen as alternate delegate for Edwards.

Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who was born in St. Charles and grew up in Sikeston, was the convention's keynote speaker.

Shaheen praised Missouri for producing some of the nation's best political leaders but then asked how the state went wrong in giving the country Attorney General John Ashcroft, a Republican former governor and U.S. senator from Missouri.

"This is the year we are going to replace John Ashcroft by delivering Missouri's 11 electoral votes to John Kerry," said Shaheen, whose statement was met with resounding applause.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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