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GOP Campaign Fails

November 04, 1998
By: Pervaiz Shallwani
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Republican Party raised and spent about $3 million during the 1998 campaign -- more than any other nonpresidential election year -- to endorse their candidates.

They had hoped to wrest control of at least one house in the General Assembly, and keep hold of the state auditor position.

They failed.

Party members cited everything from wasteful spending to the Clinton scandal as reasons voters should have pulled the Republican lever.

But as the results started to roll in Tuesday night, it quickly became evident that it was Democrats and not Republicans, in Missouri and all over the country, who were doing well on Election Day.

"We knew, watching some of the races across the country, it was going to be a rough night," said Republican Party Chairman John Hancock. "Given the national tide, I feel like our building survived the bomb blast."

Missouri Republicans were able to beat the trend, making more of a lateral move than a downward one.

In the House, the numbers stayed the same: 86 Democrats, 76 Republicans and one independent. Republicans were able to gain four of the six seats they needed in the House for a majority, but they also lost four seats, the positive being no incumbents were lost.

"A week ago, I knew we weren't going to gain the majority in the house," Hancock said.

The GOP expected a better outcome in the Senate. There, Republicans were only able to gain one of the three seats they needed for a majority. Sarah Steelman defeated Appropriations Chairman Mike Lybyer, D-Huggins, who had held his district in central Missouri for 16 years.

"Obviously we would have liked to have done better," Hancock said, "but we are closer to having a majority than we have been in a long time."

As for the race for state auditor, Hancock said the loss was "big." He blamed the inability to raise funds as the main reason for Charles Pierce's loss to Democrat Claire McCaskill.

The inability to gain at least one of the houses and keep hold of the state auditor's office has the Republicans in desperate need to find a strong candidate and raise money for the 2000 gubernatorial race.

"Finding a candidate is not the problem," said Hancock, who mentioned U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, R-St. Louis, as a front runner for the position. "Financing them, well that takes time.

"It's not easy to raise money. (Democrats) raise it in wheel barrows, we raise it in scoops."

Senate Minority Leader Steve Ehlmann, who has also endorsed Talent, pointed out that Republicans in Missouri are making progress. He said Republican Party is "just one seat and the lieutenant governor away from being in the majority in 52 years."

Ehlmann said getting someone in the lieutenant governor's office would allow for a stepping stone to the Governor's spot.

As Republicans come to the capital today to vote on their floor leaders, Tuesday's outcome may bring out battles in the house.

Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, faulted the leadership for the party's inabilities to gain control of one or both houses in the legislature. He believes it is up to the minority leaders to bring in those numbers.

"The main guideline for the Republican party is one single thing: How many new Republican slots will the new minority leader bring in," Murphy said.

He faulted Mark Richardson, House Minority Leader in 1995 and 1996, and Delbert Scott, the current House Minority Leader for the lack of numbers. The two both plan to run for the position for the upcoming session.

From 1993 to 1994, then-minority leader Pat Kelley, R-Lee's Summit, brought in 15 new Republican seats. Since then, Republicans have made no gains in the number of House seats. Richardson lost one seat while serving from 1995 to 1996. The current leader, Scott, was able to gain back one seat in his two years of service.

Murphy said there has been talk about Richardson running again and Scott sent him a letter asking for his vote.

"He sent me a letter this morning that is driving me crazy," Murphy said of Scott. "If I took the word caucus out and put in the word kindergarten, it would be no different. The issue is not a pep talk. I am wanting to see if they will commit to a number of seats."