Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kinder, Cole Promise Greater Communication With Grassroots

In a brief conference call with Republican supporters and the media Saturday, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and new G.O.P. chair David Cole promised to communicate more with party members across the state in order to build the party over the next four years.

Cole was elected the new state chair at a meeting of the state committee Saturday in Jefferson City by a symbolic vote of 68-0. Cole, a Cassville attorney, who has served on the state committee for a dozen years, was once considered a longshot for the job. But political insiders say he was chosen not only for his loyalty to the party, but because longtime political operative Lloyd Smith will take the paid position of executive director.

After the election, The Notebook reported that Smith was the frontrunner for chair. Some of the dynamics changed because of Sen. Kit Bond's announcement not to seek re-election, but sources say that the inability to pay Smith for the position was a critical underlying factor. Under the G.O.P's bylaws, the chair is an unpaid position.

Still, there is some disagreement among politicos about whether Cole will mostly be a figurehead or a mover and a shaker. "I understand the importance of grass roots," Cole said on the conference call Saturday. "We do the media and the reaching out, but not of that matters without the grass roots work," he added. Cole acknowledged electoral defeats at the ballot box in 2008, but quickly turned positive: "The cupboard is certainly not bare."

One Republican consultant told The Notebook that Cole would serve as a so-called "weak" chair. "I think he'll be function much like Doug Russell did," this consultant explained, referring to the outgoing chair. Several Republicans believe Smith will wield the day-to-day power in his executive director role, making the daily decisions on message, media and fundraising.

But other Republicans, including some from Southwest Missouri, believe Cole will still play a role and say "weak" isn't the right word to describe him. "I think he's going to lay down the umbrella agenda, then the executive director will execute it. He's probably going to be more plugged in," said one Republican staffer.

Insiders believe that Smith could be in place by State Lincoln Days, which will be held during the third weekend in February in Kansas City. But Smith's apparent decision to take the executive director adds more intrigue to the behind-the-scenes chess game in the contest for U.S. Senate.

Smith ran Sen. Jim Talent's 2002 successful election effort against Jean Carnahan as well as his failed 2006 re-election effort. If he was to become executive director, he would obviously have to remain neutral in any primary contest. Meanwhile, the three top contenders for U.S. Senate are continuing to call supporters and fundraisers around the state to gauge a run. Congressman Roy Blunt is almost a sure-thing to run for Bond's seat. But sources say that Talent and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman are still carefully weighing their options.

During Saturday's call, Kinder pledged to work with Governor Jay Nixon "wherever we can," but also oppose him when the party believe he's taking the state "in the wrong direction."

Both Kinder and Cole pledged more conference calls with grassroots activists. No questions were allowed during the brief 5-minute call. But they said future calls would be "interactive," and include questions and comments. That most likely means the media won't be invited to join those.

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