Ron Paul forces carry the day in St. Charles County's GOP caucus redo
Ron Paul supporter Brent Stafford, who was arrested at the March 17 Republican presidential caucus in St.Charles County, was decidedly in a better position after he was elected the caucus chairman during Tuesday night’s redo at the St. Charles Convention Center.
Stafford defeated the acting chairman, state GOP chairman David Cole, in the first vote of the 903 people attending Tuesday night’s gathering – a sign that Paul's allies had galvanized their forces to win some Missouri presidential delegates during the second round of the caucuses, which take place April 21.
After some procedural disputes, the caucus subsequently elected the pro-Paul slate of 59 delegates and a like-number of alternates to the April 21 congressional-district caucuses, where the presidential delegates will be chosen for this summer's Republican presidential convention in Tampa, Fla.
The caucus also elected an exclusively pro-Paul slate of 147 people to attend the state Republican convention in June.
Paul's activists earlier had estimated that they won at least 10 percent of Missouri's first-round delegates, in hopes of capturing some presidential delegate slots. The plan has been to do far better than Paul's results in Missouri at the polls. He snagged just over 12 percent of the vote in Missouri's nonbinding Feb. 7 presidential primary, with an almost identical result among St. Charles County voters.
The tension that had disrupted St. Charles County's first attempt at a caucus March 17 – forcing the gathering to be disbanded before any major action -- quickly surfaced after the vote for chairman. A few St. Charles activists, clearly not Paul's supporters, called for a recount. Stafford had 480 votes, compared to Cole’s 402.
By a voice vote, the crowd shouted down the attempted recount.
Cole left the hall after the vote, saying that he wasn’t disturbed by his loss. “It’s not a problem at all,’’ he said. Cole added that his aim had been simply to have a peaceful St. Charles County caucus. Cole and other state party leaders had been furious about the March 17 debacle, which captured headlines all over the country.
Some party activists had privately predicted a possible Paul takeover of the St. Charles caucus earlier Tuesday, after Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum – a favorite of many St.Charles Republican leaders – had suspended his campaign Tuesday afternoon.
Santorum had visited the county twice times earlier this year, and had made the rounds of some St. Louis County caucus sites on March 17.
The lingering pro-Santorum sentiment in St. Charles was clearly evident, with dozens of Santorum's campaign signs peppering the ground outside the convention hall. The March 17 caucus dispute, in which police were called, had been largely between Santorum's and Paul's camps.
Paul, party leaders seek to maintain order
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney now is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but his support seemed to be thin at the St. Charles caucus.
St. Louis County township committeeman Chris Howard, a Santorum backer, said he hoped that Paul's supporters would back Romney in the fall. "I don't know what their ultimate goal is," Howard said. He added that he was nonetheless impressed by the Paul forces' passion and "the Republican Party needs people to be involved."
Howard was among a number of St. Louis County Republican leaders who served as neutral monitors for Tuesday’s redo, in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of the earlier St. Charles County melee. Consultant John Hancock, who oversaw the evening's vote-counting, tried to keep the atmosphere light with jokes and updates of the Cardinal baseball score.
Meanwhile, the Paul camp was well organized and prepared. Some leaders, with special earpieces, were sprinkled among the convention crowd to coordinate the proceedings and their actions.
Cole had told the attendees before the chairmanship vote that all should remember that they have a common goal for November 6. “Defeating Barack Obama this November is our No. 1 priority,’’ he said.
Postmortem: Romney still will prevail
UPDATE: When the caucus finally ended around 11 p.m., Stafford said he was happy that his side had prevailed, since he strongly believes in Paul's views, especially "his sound fiscal policies."
But most of all, Stafford said he hoped that the caucus attendees who had backed other presidential hopefuls believe that "I ran a fair caucus."
He said he was out to prove that victory didn't mean that one had to be unfair to opponents. Stafford observed that he still believes that leaders of the March 17 caucus had behaved inappropriately, and noted that he still faces a trespassing charge stemming from the unrest.
Brandy Pedersen, a member of St. Charles County's Republican Central Committee and a Romney supporter, said she was satisfied with the way Tuesday's caucus was run -- even if she wasn't keen about the results. Pedersen added that she believed the Paul supporters had fairly prevailed.
Republican activist Buddy Hardin, who also backs Romney, wasn't as generous. He said he'd hoped that the Paul camp would have allowed some Romney backers on the slate of first-round delegates, since some Romney allies -- including Hardin -- had backed the Paul activists when the March 17 caucus flared up.
But Hardin observed, with a chuckle, that if it had been Romney forces who had shown up Tuesday night in such large numbers, the Romney camp might not have been willing to share, either.
Before the caucus, he said, "We were trying to get 'table scraps,' but there were no takers."
Hardin added, however, that his side shouldn't forget the big picture. Paul's camp may have won the caucus skirmish in St. Charles County, he quipped, "but (Romney) won the war today."