COLUMBIA — Driving through the streets of Columbia, one can notice small indications of the presidential campaign. Some residents have put signs up in their yards or slapped bumper stickers on their cars, all in the typical colors of red, white and blue and many featuring an American flag motif.
It’s been a busy few weeks for the folks at the Boone County Democratic headquarters, which volunteer Liz Schmidt said has gone through about 150 bumper stickers in recent days. The stickers sell for about $1 each.
“One day I sold about $40 worth,” Schmidt said. “But it depends on the day.”
Democrats also are actively campaigning. One group has been working hard for Barack Obama, and another for Hillary Clinton. The groups are canvassing, hosting speakers, conducting phone banks and holding house parties.
For Republicans, though, it’s been rather quiet on the local front. There is no Republican headquarters in Columbia. If you’re a fan of the GOP around these parts, you have to go online and request campaign materials from the Web site of your chosen candidate.
Efforts to find Republican campaign groups in Columbia returned only one result: a grass-roots Ron Paul group that meets every week and is funding radio commercials, mailing campaign literature and canvassing.
The reasons behind this discrepancy are many. Some Republicans say it reflects their candidates’ reliance on political action committees rather than grass-roots organization. Others say they’re confused about which candidate best reflects their views. Still more say Republicans simply don’t have the resources to pour into the campaign at this point.
Although there is little campaigning taking place, there is still a Republican presence in Columbia. The Boone County Republican Central Committee is looking for a location for its headquarters. Like in past election years, the headquarters will open in August and stay open through November. The Columbia Pachyderms Club meets weekly to discuss important local and national issues for the Republican Party.
Republican leaders are referring supporters of specific candidates to their Web sites for information on how to get involved and for bumper stickers or signs, said Cheri Reisch, a Boone County Republican Central Committee member.
“When the headquarters is established, we will have bumper stickers, signs and literature available,” Reisch said.
Asked why the GOP headquarters is open seasonally and not year round, Columbia Pachyderm Club member Donna Spickert had a simple answer.
“We just don’t think it’s a good use of resources,” she said.
While the absence of a headquarters is simple to explain, the absence of groups campaigning has no single cause.
William Samuels, an attorney and Ron Paul supporter, said one clue is found in the candidates’ finance reports.
“After Feb. 5 all the other candidates will be virtually broke,” Samuels said. “They’re mostly PAC candidates; they’re all establishment, Washington candidates.”
Samuels said Paul represents a break from the mold, and that is why his supporters are out in the community while others are not.
Other Columbia and Boone County Republicans struggled to explain why so few of their party faithful are engaged in the run-up to Super Tuesday.
“I don’t know,” said central committee member Mary Lou Green after a few seconds of silence.
“Oh gosh ... I’d have to think about it,” said Jane Stuart, another committee member.
Virginia Dooley, another committee member, said the group had not been contacted by any campaigns as of Wednesday. She attributes that to the candidates’ attention to earlier primaries.
“We weren’t horribly surprised because we knew the candidates were focusing on South Carolina and Florida,” Dooley said.
Paul Sloca, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, echoed that idea. He predicted Wednesday that the party might energize as the primary approached.
“As we get closer to Tuesday, and as more candidates visit Missouri, the excitement continues to grow,” Sloca said. “We are the Show Me State, and we want candidates to show us who they are.”
Spickert offered her own explanation for the absence of Republican campaigning.
“I would say that people are being caught by surprise,” Spickert said. “A lot of people haven’t made up their mind and are watching,”
“It’s all different because the primary is held so early in the year and only started in Missouri in 2000,” Spickert said. “Most people aren’t in tune to the fact that they’re going to have to make a decision in February instead of August.”
In 2000, by the time Missourians voted in August, the GOP had whittled a field of 13 candidates down to one viable contender, George W. Bush. In 2004, with Bush running as an incumbent, Bush’s victory in the primaries was a given.
This year, with four candidates left, Republicans are still seeking a front-runner. Mike Huckabee won Iowa. Mitt Romney won Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada. John McCain won New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. What will happen on Tuesday, when 20 states hold either Republican primaries, caucuses or state conventions, remains a mystery.
Green said it’s clear this year is different from the previous primaries.
“In the first place, there haven’t been that many candidates on either side trying to get the nod,” she said. “It seems like one (candidate) has always emerged on their own.”
Green cited a personal reason for the fact that she’s not knocking on doors or making phone calls.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet — none (of the candidates) fit the entire bill, and I have to see which one comes the closest,” Green said. Stuart also remained undecided. “I feel that different candidates are strong in different aspects,” she said, but none of them match with her on all the issues.
George Parker, a former Republican state representative and longtime political observer, thinks voters are always faced with a difficult decision. He cites political involvement as a way to help.
“You’re either politically acquainted with people, or you belong to a political club, and you’ll find, through discussions, what you agree and disagree with,” Parker said, adding that friends are another good way to gain political knowledge.
The Pachyderms are helping to encourage discussions that might help voters choose. They have hosted several speakers over the past weeks who support specific candidates. Still, such talk isn’t always helpful when party members feel there’s no “right” candidate.
“None of the Republican candidates are conservative enough for us,” Stuart said. “We’re having to pick the most conservative. We conservatives are just in a quandary.”
Green agreed. “All of their views are not what I want to see in a candidate. I lean very much to the conservative side in spending and morality. I probably won’t find someone as conservative as I am.”
Parker said it’s often difficult to recruit a candidate who can meet Republicans’ high expectations.
“When itcomes to the president, we are looking for a savior to save us from all our problems,” Parker said. “But how do you find them and how do you persuade them to run?”