This year, it’s better to be organized than loved. While Rick Santorum tries to earn a convention floor fight by keeping Mitt Romney from locking up the nomination before then, the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign keeps giving away precious delegates. A majority of Missouri Republicans backed Santorum in the state’s February “beauty contest” primary, but while his seat-of-the-pants campaign has generated enthusiasm, it’s having trouble holding on to its delegates.
Despite his primary win, and being the only candidate to return to the state for the caucus Saturday, Santorum appears to have counted his delegates before they were bound. An informal Daily Beast tally of the ongoing caucuses, where the Show Me State’s delegates will actually be awarded, shows the Ron Paul campaign, working in coordination with the Romney campaign, poised to poach much of Santorum’s support.
In deep-red Greene County, the state’s fifth-most populated county, Santorum’s supporters made up around 45% of the 1,019 caucus attendees, according to a participant. However, of the 111 delegates awarded there on Saturday, he got only six. In contrast, Paul received 65 delegates and Romney got 40.
In other counties, joint slates of Romney and Paul delegates were elected after the campaigns joined forces to forge a majority and control the process. In Franklin County, west of St. Louis, County Party Secretary Pam Heitzmann fumed about what she called a “prearranged” tag team, which left Santorum’s campaign with no delegates, despite having received the most votes on the first ballot there. Before the second ballot, the Romney and Paul campaigns combined to a form a joint slate with majority backing. Of the 40 delegates that Franklin County sent on, 24 were Paul supporters and 16 backed Romney. “Morally and ethically, I wouldn’t do it,” Heitzmann, a Santorum supporter, said of the tactic.
The “Ron Paul and Romney campaigns came together like that to take out the other two, said Janet Engelbach, the chair in Jefferson County, south of St. Louis. “I think that’s just wrong.” And again in Greene County, “Ron Paul and Romney got together,” county chair Danette Proctor told the Beast. Although Santorum “had the largest group,” she said, he got almost totally shut out there as well.
“I don’t know how many times we explained the rules to caucus-goers,” said Proctor. “It’s just very confusing.”
In a Republican primary process that has been more convoluted than a pretentious student film, Missouri’s rules are uniquely confusing and uniquely prone to exploitation by a well-organized campaign. Paul’s operation, designed to maximize caucus-state delegates, has stepped into the void left by Santorum’s underwhelming operation.
The county caucuses elect 2,123 delegates to represent them at the congressional and state conventions in April—when that group will finally vote to decide the 49 delegates bound to a presidential candidate.
After moving its primary up to February in an attempt to gain influence in the GOP nominating process, the Show Me State tried to reverse course when the Republican National Committee decided to strip it of half its delegates for going too early. Legislative infighting kept state Republicans from moving the date, so to avoid the penalty Missouri held a meaningless if much-covered primary in February, followed by the consequential but little-covered and hastily rigged caucuses that began this last week but were mostly held this weekend. (Both the city of St. Louis and Jackson County, where Kansas City is located, are holding their caucuses this Saturday. Last week was problematic because it would have conflicted with St. Patrick’s Day festivities.)
As even well-planned caucuses, like Iowa’s, have had mishaps this year, it’s no surprise that many counties faced delays, disorder, and interminable meetings.
The problem, said Ryan Johnson, the chair of the Cass County Republican Party in suburban Kansas City, was that “each county could write its own caucus rules, and there was no standardization across the board”—providing opportunities for dedicated Paul supporters to game the system. In calls to 20 of the state’s larger counties, every contest The Daily Beast checked in on was majoritarian, meaning that so long as a group held a bare majority, it could do whatever it wanted from selecting its own slate of delegates to rewriting the rules as it pleased.
The chaos extended around the state. The county caucus in St. Charles County, outside St. Louis, had to be canceled, and two caucusgoers there were arrested for disorderly conduct.
Ron Paul, for instance, began with a majority in Boone County, home to the University of Missouri, and dictated the rules there. C. Bruce Cornett, who was the Romney-supporting county chair in Boone County, said he bore no ill will toward the Paul supporters. “The Paul folks took over and changed the rules legitimately,” he said. While delegates were voted on individually, the Paul campaign was still able to impose almost its entire slate on the caucus, gaining 48 of the county’s delegates while Romney took the remaining five, said Cornett.
Santorum did have some successes though. Rather appropriately for the social conservative candidate, he swept Christian County, Mo. There, according to county party secretary Eddie Campbell, there was no Romney presence at all, just a split between Paul supporters and Santorum supporters. Caucusgoers there backed Santorum over Paul by a margin of almost 2 to 1 according, to Campbell. In the final tally the former Pennsylvania senator picked up all of the county’s 37 delegates. (Although there was a slate of delegates backing Newt Gingrich, it was apparently an unsuccessful Paul tactic to split off votes, winning the support of precisely two attendees.)
While Santorum “owned the room” in Cass County, according to Johnson, the campaign nonetheless made its own deal with Romney there to keep Paul supporters from throwing a wrench in the works. The Santorum camp, Johnson continued, “could have run the show and done anything they wanted to. Just to be safe [they] made a deal,” keeping 38 delegates but leaving five for Romney.
But there were rare islands of accord and understanding. In southern Missouri’s Phelps County, delegates were elected individually without regard to whom they intend to support—leaving no clear tally there of which candidates each delegate intends to back. Many of those elected were still split between several presidential candidates, said county chair Bob May, who included himself among the undecided delegates.
May said he and other Republicans there “did a lot of hard work with trying to come up with a fair and open system.”
The caucus “went amicably,” said May. “People respected each other. We didn’t have to calm anybody down.”