SPRINGFIELD — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won a majority of Missouri's delegates Saturday, finally concluding the state's complicated four-month selection process just days after he clinched his party's nomination to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama.
Republicans who gathered at their state convention in Springfield approved a slate of delegates to the Republican National Convention in late August that includes 19 people bound to support Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and six pledged to support former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who already has ended his presidential campaign.
When combined with the results of Missouri's eight congressional district conventions in April, Romney now has received a total of 31 delegates from Missouri, compared with 13 for Santorum, four for Texas Congressman Ron Paul and one for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Missouri's delegate vote was somewhat anticlimactic because Romney's victory in the Texas primary Tuesday pushed him past the national threshold of 1,444 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Yet the Missouri Republican State Convention was not without contention. The slate of Romney and Santorum supporters — dubbed the Show Me Unity Slate — defeated an alternative championed as the Grassroots Life and Liberty Slate that would have allotted 16 delegates to Paul, nine to Santorum and none to Romney. The vote was 1,025-781, with the Romney-led slate carrying support from all regions of the state except from St. Louis and the Kansas City area, which went for Paul.
Romney was expected to prevail at the state convention, largely because he already had emerged as the likely Republican nominee. But Santorum carried every Missouri county during its non-binding primary in February, for which Romney did not campaign and for which Gingrich was not even listed on the ballot. Santorum's Missouri primary victory helped boost his national campaign for a while, and both the Romney and Paul camps were dependent on Santorum supporters in order to put together a coalition at the state convention.
Jack King, 73, of Shell Knob, watched the Republican convention as a guest. King, who participated in tea party marches in Washington, D.C., in 2009 and 2010, said he considers Paul "too much to the extreme right." He believes Romney's private-sector business experience could help improve the nation's economy.
"A businessman is the greatest asset we can have in government," King said. "The president — the character we got — is way out of his league."
Others are less enthused about Romney.
John Dilsaver, 54, watched the state convention as a Paul supporter. He voted for Obama in 2008, but has since soured on the president because of ongoing military conflicts and deficit spending, among other things. Yet Dilsaver is not sure whether he will support Romney in the November election.
"I'm more comfortable with Romney than Obama, but I haven't heard Romney speak definitively enough on foreign policy in a way I can agree with," said Dilsaver, a high school math teacher from Christian County. "These adventurous foreign wars are going to bankrupt us."
Missouri's means of awarding its Republican presidential delegates was complicated this year because of the desire by state party officials to comply with national party guidelines. Those rules sought to prevent a rush of early presidential contests by docking half the delegates of states that skipped ahead of certain other states on the election calendar.
By law, Missouri's presidential primary is scheduled for February. The Republican-led Legislature passed a bill in 2011 to delay the primary until March 2012 in order to comply with the national party guidelines, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it while citing objections to unrelated parts of the bill. Nixon then added the issue to the agenda for an autumn special session. But divisions arose among Republican senators, and the second attempt to delay the primary failed to pass.
To avoid getting penalized by the national party, the Missouri Republican State Committee chose to use a March caucus system as a starting point for selecting its presidential delegates — leaving the $7 million February primary as a nonbinding public opinion poll. Those March caucuses were used to select attendees to eight congressional district conventions in April and the state convention Saturday, at which delegates finally were bound to support particular presidential candidates during the Republican National Convention on Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla.