Recruitment, Blunt focus of Missouri Republican Party at Lincoln Days event

Sunday, February 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

ST. CHARLES — With bikers, Tea Party supporters and an influx of youth contributing to a near record turnout, Missouri Republicans are searching for more.

The Missouri Republican Party held their annual Lincoln Days event in St. Charles Friday and Saturday. With attendance estimated around 800 — double the previous year — according to Lloyd Smith, executive director of the party, the message of the weekend was one of inclusion.

"We rise and fall on the voting behavior of swing voters," Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said at a banquet Friday.

House Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, attributed the rise in attendance to work he and Senate Majority Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, did mobilizing younger voters. After a low turnout at the event last year in Kansas City, Tilley said he and Engler spent the last year attempting to drum up "young energy and exuberance."

At a town hall event early Saturday, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, said another group of voters should be also be brought under the Republican umbrella.

"Hispanics are very pro-family, they're socially conservative, they work hard. They should be Republicans."

With all the talk of inclusion, it was hard to miss the party's embrace of Blunt as their nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being left open by the retirement of Sen. Kit Bond.

While Smith would not say the party was officially endorsing Blunt over his opponents in this summer's Republican primary, Blunt and his campaign paraphernalia were displayed prominently at the St. Charles Convention Center.

The halls and entrances of the convention center were awash in blue and white Blunt campaign balloons and the candidate began the event with a rally.

Jonathon Prouty, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said that the Blunt rally was not one of the convention's scheduled events.

In a town hall Saturday morning, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin discussed the importance of Republicans winning "Roy Blunt's race," while one of Blunt's primary opponents, state Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, was seated in the audience.

On Friday, Purgason said his party had worked against him in his first race for state representative and that he was running undeterred on a platform to balance the federal budget — something Republicans, including Blunt, failed to do while in the Congressional majority from 2000-2006.

"Blunt was part of the leadership that added debt... He enjoys earmarks and failed to balance the budget."

Blunt never mentioned his Republican challengers by name, instead focusing on likely Democratic Senate nominee Robin Carnahan and national Democratic leaders.

"No one has done as much for my Senate campaign as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid," he said referring to the House and Senate leaders. "Along with the President they have scared the county to death."

In another contested primary race, state Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood is facing former Bush official Thomas Schweich for the Party's nomination for state Auditor.  On Friday night, Icet defeated Schweich 87-13 in a straw poll held by the campaign consulting firm Survey St. Louis.

"They're just for fun," Icet said. "But it's always nice to win a straw poll."

Primary races aside, Steven Tilley said he had never seen a Lincoln Days event quite like the 2010 version.

The party is "more unified than I've ever seen us be," Tilley said.

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