Rock Erekson, a Mitt Romney supporter, and Libby Wilkinson, a Rick Santorum… (Whitney Curtis / Getty Images )
Reporting from Hazelwood, Mo. — Call it a “bloodbath,” call it “mass hysteria,” or just call it a presidential caucus.
Call it what you want, but a day of electoral uncertainty in Missouri has proven what many already knew: The Show-Me State won’t be showing its cards in the Republican president-making game any time soon.
“Vote your conscience!” Rick Santorum told a crowd in St. Louis on Saturday morning before hustling off to several other bite-sized campaign stops, all to snipe at Romney and shore up support in a state he’d already swept in a nonbinding February primary.
But conscience-voting wouldn’t quite cut it in Missouri on Saturday. The state’s Republicans first had to wade through a widely expected political pileup in order to complete the next stage of Missouri’s convoluted nomination process.
“It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” said Jay Zvirgzdins, 32, a fuzzy, blond-bearded, bespectacled Ron Paul fan, before his caucus Saturday morning in a little city called (really) Town and Country, Mo.
He was waving his thermos at the crowd that had assembled to caucus at the Westminster Christian Academy, where Santorum had stopped by to speak to a few dozen fans and a handful of placard-wielding Mitt Romney supporters in this St. Louis suburb.
The caucusing -- in which Missourians picked the delegates who will elect the delegates who will cast their votes for a Republican nominee, the layers of it all a bit like a giant political nesting doll -- went smoothly in some places, and more, um, bloodbath-like in others.
The Kansas City Star reported that in Clay County, “arguments between Paul supporters and others became so intense the caucus chairman threatened to have voters removed by force."
Across the state, some argued that delegates should honor the February vote; others said that the delegates should be proportional.
In St. Charles, political blogger John Combest tweeted that order broke down in the first 10 seconds of the caucus, with Santorum, Romney and Paul groups butting heads in a “mass hysteria” over how to proceed.
State representative Matt Ehlen tried to take order, announcing that, as Combest tweeted, “The police are ready to shut us down.” As of last word, the caucus gave up and there had been no vote on delegates. “All we need is Ernie Hays on the organ to play ‘Three Blind Mice’ or the Jeopardy theme,” Combest tweeted.
In the Lewis and Clark township, township committeeman David A. Blanke told The Times that all was well. “It could have been messier,” he said. “We were expecting a large contingent of Ron Paul voters.”
Instead, the caucus had a prepared slate of nine delegates to represent the township and managed to ward off a last-minute attempt to present an alternative list of representatives. But who those nine delegates will actually vote for -- who knows? Blanke told The Times he just found out that another committee member was for Romney, not Santorum. “I’ll have a talk with her,” he said with a chuckle.
He also said the township had been planning to honor its February vote for Santorum before the state GOP told them on Wednesday not to bind the delegates to the earlier vote -- a move that would benefit Romney, if Missouri’s delegates decide to later back the current front-runner instead of Santorum, who won every county. “They are aware of the sentiments of the people,” was the best Blanke had to offer when asked how the delegates would decide how to vote. Delegates will make that decision at the upcoming congressional district votes and at the state convention, where Missouri’s final delegates will be decided.
So don’t look for a winner in Missouri on Saturday, because there won’t be one, as the state Republican party had already warned.
Will there be a winner eventually? Technically, yes, but there are signs of dissatisfaction in Missouri Republicans’ heart of hearts, when it gets down to talking particulars.
Jim Crossland, a retired Marine handing out flyers about the national debt after a Santorum speech in northern St. Louis, shrugged when asked about the candidate, the apparent local favorite. “In Pennsylvania, his nickname was ‘Tricky Ricky’ -- talks one way, votes another,” Crossland said. “But if he’s elected for our side, I’ll get behind him.”
“I’m still sending money to Newt,” he confessed. So what if it’s Romney, like a lot of people predict?
Crossland paused. “I’ll vote for him,” he said, “but I won’t send him any money.”