Poll: Character, policy among top factors for GOP panel

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Graphic: How the committee voted in the Southeast Missourian poll.

On a Saturday in February, 86 Republicans will write Missouri political history when they choose a candidate to run for Congress.

Members of a congressional committee will cast votes for one of 13 potential nominees when they gather Feb. 9 in Van Buren, Mo. The candidate who receives 50 percent of the votes, plus one, will win the Republican Party's nomination to run in a special election set for June 4 to fill a vacancy left by former U.S. representative Jo Ann Emerson, who ended her nearly 17-year career in Congress on Jan. 22. Emerson has moved on to head the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Graphic: How the committee ranked key factors in determining their votes.

No primaries will be held leading up to the special election. Narrowing the field will be up to party committees. Several members of the GOP say their service on the committee is a duty they aren't taking lightly.

But who will they choose? And which factors are they considering?

An unscientific Southeast Missourian poll of committee members conducted from Jan. 22 to 25 shows the front-runners in the Republican field as Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith; former Missouri Republican Party director and party strategist Lloyd Smith; and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. They are followed by state Rep. Todd Richardson; former state legislator Jason Crowell; and Bob Parker, a former candidate for the 8th District. Determinations of front-runners were made by asking committee members to provide their top three candidates to fill the vacancy.

The candidate who receives the committee's nomination will face Democratic and Libertarian opponents, as well as possible independent candidates.

Committee members also were asked to rank in order of importance four factors when making their decision about the nominees. On top of considerations for the committee was character, followed by policy positions, the ability to win re-election, and experience.

Not all committee members wanted to rank their top three choices -- several said they remain undecided. But that hasn't stopped them from putting much thought and effort into their decision-making.

Wayne Bowen, who will cast two votes for a nominee as chair of the Republicans' 147th House District committee, is vice chairman of the Cape Girardeau County committee. Although in that undecided category, Bowen is applying several criteria when looking at each candidate.

"I'm concerned who is going to be the best nominee to bring the party together, because we have major groups within the party that are significant," Bowen said.

He listed "pro-liberty Republicans," who he said in the past have supported candidates like Ron Paul, "establishment Republicans," who have built the party in the district and solidified the party's engagement among its members, Evangelicals and those primarily interested in economic issues and regulations.

"We need someone who is accessible among the broad range of groups in the party," Bowen said.

He also wants in a candidate someone who "will continue Emerson's unparalleled attention to the district."

Bowen believes the best representative will personally call on federal bureaucrats for answers when the district's constituents are facing issues.

Other considerations for Bowen are whether candidates would build the party by campaigning for other Republicans leading up to contests for state and local seats in general elections, and if candidates possess enough character and dignity to be seen as a good advocate for the district to those who live outside Missouri.

Some committee members, such as Kevin Mainord, of East Prairie, Mo., aren't placing as much importance on the strength of the party -- relying instead on what they already know about a candidate and their personal feelings to make their decision. Mainord readily admits he will vote for Lloyd Smith during the nomination meeting.

"We're lucky to have a lot of people interested in this," Mainord said. "But the thing I know for sure right now, and I've told this to anyone I meet who asks, and to people on the committee -- is that Lloyd already knows all the issues of the 8th district."

Mainord sees a scenario with Smith replacing Jo Ann Emerson as a pass of the torch since Smith acted as a former chief of staff for both the congresswoman and her late husband, Bill Emerson.

Dr. Beverly Peters, of Marble Hill, Mo., like Bowen, will cast two votes for a nominee. She views her role as a committee member as being about representation of her home territory.

"I don't know if everybody's approaching it that way, but that's just how I feel like I should approach it," she said. "I ask the people in Bollinger County, people that I know and see around town, 'what are your thoughts?' Because essentially, in this particular instance, they are my constituents. I don't consider myself a politician, or holding an elected office, per se, but in this case I am representing the voters in my county and in my district that I represent, and I feel like their opinions count."

Peters described her experience on the committee so far as "an enjoyable but exhausting process."

As she has attempted to recruit Republicans into committee participation, Peters said she is quick to share the possible responsibilities one could face should they decide to join a committee.

"I always say, these committees are not important until they are. And then once they become important -- they are extremely important," she said.

Missouri statutes state that established political parties shall have legislative committees, with their purpose being to represent and act for the party in between party conventions. A responsibility of the committees includes nominating candidates for elections should a vacancy occur in a legislative district.

During the Republican committee's meeting, nominations will take place through committee members using one minute each to vocally announce their choice of nominee, according to current proposed committee rules. No seconds of nominations will be required.

Once nominations are taken, the committee will vote for nominated candidates by secret ballot after the candidates have three minutes each to address the committee. After a vote is taken, if no candidate has received the required 50 percent-plus-one-vote minimum needed to receive the nomination, the candidate receiving the fewest number of votes will be eliminated from the nomination process and a new vote will be taken. If there is a tie between two or more candidates for fewest votes, and that tie is two votes or fewer per candidate, all tying candidates are eliminated from consideration.

If the total vote for each candidate tied is three votes or more, a new election will be held without a candidate having been eliminated. Any candidate who fails to garner a vote during any elections will be eliminated, along with the candidate who receives the fewest votes. After a vote has been taken, and if no candidate has received the required majority, any current candidate or committee member may request that the body stand at ease for up to 5 minutes. If no request is made, the meeting will proceed.

Committee members, according to proposed rules, also can only vote in person. No proxies are allowed.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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