'Purest form of democracy': Cape County Republicans hold caucus that largely backs Santorum

Sunday, March 18, 2012
Fritz Sander counts the people standing to vote for Evan Trump as Cape Girardeau County GOP caucus chairman Saturday in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

The signs were in place in four corners of the room and now it was time for the nearly 170 or so gathered Republicans to pick sides.

Newt or Mitt? Rick or Ron?

The Cape Girardeau County Republican Party joined the nearly 114 other Missouri counties Saturday with its local caucus that will help determine who gets the state's 52 delegates and, ultimately, the Republican nomination for president.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who won the state's nonbinding primary last month, again garnered the most support here, with 85 of those in attendance voting for him. Texas congressman Ron Paul, who hasn't won a single state, came in second with 46 votes. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney may be the front-runner nationally, but not here, with 22 votes. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich fared only slightly worse, with a showing of 17 votes.

But it was what those numbers translate into that's key: Delegates -- even if at this point the party opted to make them nonbinding until next month's congressional caucuses and June's GOP state convention. The group elected two slates of 20 delegates for Santorum; nine for Paul; four for Romney; and three for Gingrich.

The delegates, who were nominated and voted on along with several alternates, can change their mind when they join the 2,100 or so others that were selected statewide to advance to the congressional district conventions April 21 and a state convention June 1 and 2.

The group, which gathered at the University of Missouri Extension office in Jackson, opted to make them nonbinding at this point because so much can change in a presidential campaign in a month.

Missouri's delegates will be bound to particular candidates at the eight April caucuses that will take place in each of the state's congressional districts. Those districts are based on the redrawn map after the state lost a district following the 2010 census. An additional 25 delegates will be bound at the June convention. The three other so-called "superdelegates" are reserved for state party officials, who are free to support whoever they want.

While other GOP caucuses reported turmoil in other counties -- the one in St. Charles County was shut down after heated debates -- the Cape Girardeau County caucus ran smoothly. County Republican chairman Evan Trump said while he was slightly disappointed with the turnout -- he had predicted 300 -- he was happy with the results.

"This is the purest form of democracy," Trump said. "This is voting by representation. This is kind of like what the nation's founders were doing when the Continental Congress was drafting the Articles of Confederation."

The two-hour process began promptly at 10 a.m., with those arriving late being told that they could not be certified to cast a vote. Each person in attendance was certified as a registered county voter and made to declare that he is a Republican.

Then they broke into four groups, not counting the lone person who considered himself uncommitted, gathering in each corner near signs that displayed the name of one candidate. The group that backed Santorum, who visited Cape Girardeau the week before, was the largest and included state Sen. Jason Crowell, Reps. Wayne Wallingford and Donna Lichtenegger and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

"He's the strongest candidate in the field," said Wayne Bowen, who was elected as a delegate to the state convention in Springfield and alternate to the congressional caucus in Poplar Bluff.

Bowen said that Santorum has run his campaign effectively and stayed competitive, even though he hasn't raised as much money as the well-heeled Romney.

"President Obama is not going to have any trouble raising money, so we need someone who can do that," said Bowen, who is the chairman of the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University.

While the Santorum supporters had larger numbers, the devotees of other candidates were equally passionate. Antione Austin, 19, became a fan of Ron Paul after his girlfriend's sister showed him some of Paul's recorded speeches.

"He was just right about a lot of stuff," Austin said. "He really has a way of connecting to younger people."

Austin said he won't support Obama just because the two have the same skin color.

"Most black people vote for him just because he's black," Austin said. "I don't like the man. I prefer someone who would do a better job for the country."

Oliver Manuel also prefers Paul.

"Ron Paul seems to be the farthest removed from the corrupt consensus thinking that threats the very fundamentals of constitutional government," Manuel said. "The others are not at fault. They are simply unaware of the gradual erosion of our First Amendment rights."

Gary Lange said he likes Gingrich's intelligence. Of the candidates, Lange said, Gingrich has the most experience.

"To me, he is the only one with enough intelligence to stand up and do what's needed," Lange said. "He's a strong-willed person. We need someone like him."

Romney, who leads the field of candidates in total delegates so far, wasn't without support. Frank Miller, who is an alternate at the state convention, said Romney is the man who has the best chance of doing what everyone at the caucus wants done -- getting Obama out of the White House.

"He got some great experience in Massachusetts," Miller said. "He surrounded himself with some knowledgeable people who knew what they were doing. He's got the leadership skills and experience."

At the end of the day, Trump said he was happy with the way things went.

"People were passionate, they were excited," he said. "They even looked like they were having a little fun."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

684 W. Jackson Trail, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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