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Bond reaffirms preference for presidential primaries over caucuses

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 16, 2012 - Before leaving on his trade trip to Indonesia, former Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., expressed his view that binding presidential primaries are preferable to caucuses.

Bond's observations were made in the context of the decision by Missouri Republican leaders to ignore the results of Missouri's Feb. 7 presidential primary.

"Primaries ought to be binding," said Bond in an interview.

Such comments appear to be Bond's first public observations on the matter since the Missouri Republican Party decided last fall to use a caucus system, beginning in March, to award delegates to the presidential contenders.

The state GOP's decision was in response to the Republican National Committee's threatened punishment of states that fail to comply with the rule barring most states from holding primaries or caucuses before March 1. Missouri's Feb. 7 primary violates that requirement; the state General Assembly failed to pass bills that would have moved the primary to March.

The Republican caucuses will be open to the public, but Bond -- for years Missouri's most influential Republican -- noted that relatively few people generally take part, compared to primaries. In the February 2008 presidential primary, 1.4 million Missourians cast ballots-- roughly 600,000 Republicans and 800,000 Democrats.

Bond contended that a binding primary attracts more public interest and involvement, which arguably could generate more state support for the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

"I want to see a whole lot of people involved. When you look at Iowa and the influence it has with less than 100,000 people participating," Bond said. "We're talking about a national president. All the voters of Missouri ought to have a reasonable opportunity to register their voices, register their votes."

Bond hasn't been a fan of a caucus system since 1996, when he headed up the Missouri contingent for presumed Republican favorite (and eventual presidential nominee) Bob Dole. But social-conservative supporters of renegade challengers Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes packed many Missouri caucus sites that year and snagged a significant share of delegates.

An angry Bond declared on television at the time that Missouri should stick with a presidential primary. He subsequently helped influence the bipartisan decisions to hold state presidential preference primaries in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Publicly anyway, Bond was not involved in the state GOP's decision to switch back to a caucus system this year.

By the way, Bond also has broken with his past and isn't endorsing any of this year's Republican presidential hopefuls -- although he is "watching with interest."

Bond said he got burned four years ago when he was among the early supporters of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who briefly sought the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Bond hosted a major fundraising event here in December 2007 for Giuliani; the affair made national news when the former mayor got sick soon afterward with flu-like symptoms and ended up spending the night at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Giuliani dropped out soon afterward.

Recalled Bond: "I took a long walk on a short pier in 2008 when I went out for Rudy Giuliani, who I thought was great. We were campaigning for him in Florida and we found out he quit."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.