FORSYTH — Saturday’s nonbinding Taney County Republican caucus was a decisive victory for Ron Paul, though the results are being formally contested to the state GOP by the losing side.
For the Paul supporters, it was the harvest of months of planning and preparation. Though the county’s delegates for the next rounds of caucusing are free to change their minds, all of them currently back Paul, the Texas congressman known for his strong libertarian streak.
While Paul supporters scored major wins in other caucuses Saturday by partnering with the backers of frontrunner Mitt Romney, such was not the case in Taney County.
“We’re not bound to any one candidate, but all of Taney County’s delegates are Ron Paul supporters,” Erin Behm-Drummond said.
Behm-Drummond and her husband, Steve Drummond, were two of the 22 delegates selected to represent Taney County at the 7th Congressional District caucus in April and the state caucus in June.
The selection process was not without contention. A clear rift formed between Paul supporters and a group allied with the Taney County Republican Central Committee and Branson’s Tea Party Patriot HQ.
The sides clashed most obviously during the election of a caucus chairman — the first business of the day — and the actual selection of delegates — the primary duty of the caucus.
Paul supporter Peter Kershaw beat out central committee chairman Buddy Roberts in the second vote to lead the caucus, after the first decision — which went to Roberts — was thrown out due to being decided by only two votes.
The delegates were selected by pre-set rosters rather than individually. The Paul supporters’ lineup narrowly won the day, 111-104, over the one backed by Tea Party HQ and the central committee. That vote also had to be recast after a 98-98 tie in a previous decision that included a third option later ruled ineligible.
Bill Petrovic, who had backed the opposing side, said the results took him by surprise.
“The Paul people came in and they took this thing over,” he said. “We weren’t expecting that to happen.”
But Tera Sukman, director of Tea Party HQ, expected the Paul contingent to be strong and said she spent $1,000 advertising and encouraging registered voters to attend. At least 240 were in attendance at one point Saturday.
According to Behm-Drummond, the Paul supporters spent months learning Robert’s Rules of Order and GOP protocol. She said a group of about 30 or 40 people met numerous times to plan for Saturday, even inviting speakers to educate them about the caucus process.
The training came in handy, as many — on both sides — said Saturday was their first caucus.
Behm-Drummond said her group traveled to Springfield two weeks ago to see Paul speak, where they met other supporters from Taney County that joined their efforts at the caucus.
“We didn’t realize until then how many Taney County patriots we have down here,” Behm-Drummond said. “I think Saturday was a great, positive sign that a lot of people do support (Paul’s) views.”
She encouraged those on the opposing side to contact the delegates and discuss their concerns.
“We’re absolutely open to hearing anybody’s point of view,” she said. “We’re taking this job very seriously.”
Sukman, who doesn’t support Paul, said she and the central committee are contesting the caucus’s results. She plans to send a letter to Missouri GOP chairman David Cole that details a number of Kershaw’s procedures she questions, including his insistence that presidential candidates not be discussed — though he had been echoed in that ruling by others.
For his part, Kershaw said he does not wish the party to be divided, and he believes his political beliefs were irrelevant to his duties as chairman.
“My only agenda was to conduct a fair and open proceeding,” Kershaw said. “Hopefully, everybody saw clearly that I was not operating on any personal bias.”
Paul finished third in Taney County in the Feb. 7 primary, with about 11.5 percent of the vote.