Jefferson City, MO – State Senator Jane Cunningham has announced her intention to run for chairman of the Missouri Republican Party in an email to committee members. “If we are to win future elections, we must connect the reformers and party regulars as well as reach out broadly to others. The tent must be inclusive, not exclusive, and our Republican family needs to expand to bring in new ideas, energy and skills”, Cunningham stated in her announcement that she would challenge incumbent chairman David Cole who is seeking re-election.
When asked what changes she would make if elected she commented, “I would change the mission of the party. We have to do better in statewide elections. In order for us to do so we are simply going to have to do better at building and maintaining a voter file that not only includes home phone numbers, but cell phones, email address, and social media. This fall I was doing GOTV calls in St. Louis County and so much of the voter file was wrong or obsolete. If we cannot build a bench and get better at running statewide campaigns we owe it to our state”.
Asked if elected if she planned to retain current executive director of the state party Lloyd Smith who while running the state party is seeking the party’s nomination to Congress in the 8th district she responded, “I was sued in an attempt to remove Prop C (the measure to prohibit Obamacare in Missouri) from the ballot. When I called the party for help, Lloyd Smith told me that he and David Cole decided, “The issue was not important to the party.” Tim Jones, John Diehl, Jim Lembke and I received absolutely no help from the party and were forced to pay all the legal bills ourselves in order to keep it on the ballot. So yes I would fire Lloyd Smith if I were elected”.
Incumbent chairman David Cole is seeking re-election to the committee, and has touted gains at the county courthouse level to offset concerns about the party’s poor performance in races for offices such as Governor and Attorney General. The election will be in early January by members of the Missouri Republican State Committee. Hardy Billington of Poplar Bluff who sits on the state committee said he is still undecided, “I have not committed to vote for Mr. Cole, I want to see who all runs and make the best choice for the future of the party, and who is best served to help us win statewide races”.
Last week Virginia Young wrote a laudatory story about Smith touting the successes of the party at the county courthouse level and the state party’s role in that success. However, news that the state party was actively engaged in county races came as a surprise to many county candidates. “It is laughable to say the state party had any role whatsoever in helping county candidates that I have ever heard of. I really can’t believe they would say that. I unseated a democrat as Prosecuting Attorney in 2010 and I never heard from them once, nor has anyone in the Ozarks I have spoke with ever been helped in any meaningful way by them. That is really odd that they would say that”, said Republican Carter County Prosecuting Attorney Rocky Kingree.
Some have voiced concerns that the state party is more moderate than the party as a whole. Cunningham said she believes on issues such as Obamacare and raising taxes the state party should be actively engaged in helping fight the big battles. “I believe that anyone who wants a more conservative state party will be happy with Jane as chair. She would be a great leader of a Republican party that is conservative and engaged”, said State Representative Steve Cookson.
Some have seen the portion of Cunningham’s platform focusing on statewide elections as a show of respect and continuity to Senator John Lamping’s call for a strengthening of the party’s bench for statewide candidates last month. “I have known Jane for some time and as I have stated previously, I feel that anyone who is committed to building our bench and focus on winning these statewide elections is someone I want to work with”, said Senator Lamping.
While Cunningham’s announcement was critical of Cole there are larger questions facing the state Republican party after only perennial vote getter Lt. Governor Peter Kinder was elected statewide last month. Widely respected former director of the party John Hancock commented, “First of all when I worked at the party we really only had one way to go and that was up. However, we worked focused on really two priorities 1. Developing a first rate voter file using paid and volunteer methods to have an up to date infrastructure to use for turnout on election day, and 2. We worked to build a party that could be a place for party leaders to build consensus and to avoid divisive primaries. You can’t tell people not to run, but you can provide a place for party leaders come together and help avoid the unnecessary use of resources that occurs in primaries”.
When asked if he felt it should be a state party priority to engage in county races Hancock answered, “No, that is not something that was a big priority to us at the time, you have to remember we had so many other pressing races to focus our limited time on. Our priority was very simple, take the White House, win the governor’s mansion and other statewide elections and of course the U.S. Senate race. We were involved down to really only the state representative level, and that is about it.
Others rumored to be seeking the the party chairmanship on a conservative banner include Senator Chuck Purgason of Howell County, and Ed Martin of St. Louis. Senator Jim Lembke commented on why there are so many conservative candidates seeking the chairmanship, “I think that so many questions are being asked and so many people are wanting a change in the party leadership is because we just haven’t put enough statewide races in the win column. That is what the business is about.” When asked if he supported Senator Cunningham’s pledge to terminate the current director Lloyd Smith he replied, “Of course I think that is a commons sense decision. I would obviously support that.”