JEFFERSON CITY— The new chairman of the Missouri Republican Party said Tuesday that he wants the GOP to be more aggressive in promoting its message and more sophisticated in reaching out to prospective voters.
St. Louis attorney Ed Martin took over as chairman Saturday after ousting David Cole in a close vote of the Missouri Republican State Committee. The shakeup comes after a mixed election for Republicans in which they gained seats in the state House and carried Missouri for presidential candidate Mitt Romney but lost to Democrats in the U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and most other statewide races.
Martin was among those losing candidates, gaining less than 41 percent of the vote against Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who carried 56 percent. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill defeated her Republican challenger, Rep. Todd Akin, with about 55 percent of the vote. And Gov. Jay Nixon received a similar amount of support while turning back GOP challenger Dave Spence.
McCaskill, Nixon and Koster all positioned themselves as moderate candidates. Martin said Republicans failed to persuade voters that they weren't.
"Our party needs to be making sure we don't wait until six months before the election to make clear to the public who these people are as to their policies," Martin said. "I think that's one of the real failings, if you look back this time. Chris Koster and Jay Nixon and Claire McCaskill, to some extent ... I don't think they were defined as to what their record is."
Martin said he wants the state Republican Party to be more involved in public policy debates. He points to Nixon's recent support for expanding the Medicaid health care program to cover more adults. While Nixon says that the expansion initially would be paid for by the federal government, Martin said, Republicans should be noting that it would be an implementation of "Obamacare" funded through higher taxes and debt.
Under Martin, "we might see a more combative Republican Party," said George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University.
Martin's desire for Republicans to more aggressively frame the public debate comes as Democrats are attempting to influence the public perception of Martin.
Immediately after Martin's election, the Missouri Democratic Party released a statement describing him as an "extreme politician." Democrats followed that up the next day by publicizing an email Martin had written about a judicial nominee in September 2007 while he was chief of staff to former Gov. Matt Blunt. In the email, Martin called the nominee "one of the worst I have ever seen," describing her as "a black woman, pro-abort, and very liberal."
Martin said the Democratic response to his selection was evidence of a "bankrupt party" focused on "slash and burn" tactics instead of their own policies.
But Democratic Party Chairman Mike Sanders said Tuesday that Martin's election as chairman shows Republicans haven't learned from their losses in 2012.
"With Ed Martin, you've got someone who is a darling of the right wing of the Republican Party," Sanders said. "This is a party that has now tacked so far to the right that they no longer represent mainstream Missourians."
Martin said he wants to copy Democrats in at least one thing. During last year's elections, Martin said, Democratic candidates and volunteers were able to tap into a more thorough voter database, so that they were knew what issues were important to particular people when they were knocking on doors and making phone calls.
"I don't think we've had a particularly good database," Martin said.