Expensive Missouri primary won't mean much

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 ~ Updated 11:08 AM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The political maxim "every vote counts" may ring pretty hollow in Missouri on Tuesday.

A series of political squabbles has rendered the state's Republican vote merely symbolic, turning the $7 million primary into a glorified public opinion poll that will play little to no role in determining the party's nominee.

Instead, the GOP plans to use state caucuses in March to begin the process of awarding Missouri's 52 presidential delegates. Tuesday's primary will still be used to award delegates for the Democratic nomination, which will undoubtedly go to President Barack Obama.

About 960,000 voters, or 23 percent of eligible voters, are expected to show up Tuesday, said Ryan Hobart, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office. If that projection holds up, the primary would draw nearly 500,000 fewer voters to the polls than in 2008, when 1.4 million Missourians cast ballots in a year with competitive primaries in both parties.

"We've been encouraging people to vote nonetheless," Hobart said, "to send a message they want to have a say in who the nominee is."

Republican voters will find a ballot including national front-runner Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and four candidates who've already dropped out of the race: Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Jon Huntsman.

Newt Gingrich isn't on the ballot because he didn't pay the $1,000 filing fee, explaining later that it didn't count for delegates.

Only Santorum has actively campaigned in Missouri, and even that effort didn't begin until a about week before the primary.

After states scrambled to move near the front of the presidential contest in 2008, the national Republican Party warned that states jumping to the front in 2012 would lose half their delegates. Missouri tried to comply. The Republican-led Legislature last year passed a bill that would have repealed a 2002 law requiring the presidential primary to be held Feb. 7 and instead scheduled it for March 6. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, citing objections to unrelated sections.

Nixon added the presidential primary to the agenda for an autumn special session, and the state Republican Party urged lawmakers to reschedule the February vote for later. But Republican senators squabbled among themselves. Some insisted Missouri should stand fast and thumb its nose at the national party directive. Ultimately, nothing passed.

Not wanting to get penalized by the national party, the Missouri Republican Central Committee decided to hold March 17 caucuses to begin allotting its presidential delegates. Yet because the law mandating a February primary remained on the books, both had to occur.

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