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Republicans, Clinton already jockeying for support in Missouri's March 15 primary

presidential candidates 2016
Some of the people competing to be the Republican and Democratic nominee for president.

With Missouri’s presidential primary just four months away, the state’s Republicans are already pumped up.

And Missouri Democrats are hoping to follow suit.

In  2012, Missouri’s too-early February primary ran afoul of both major parties’ rules. The threatened penalties scared away most GOP contenders; and President Barack Obama – facing no serious challenge for the Democratic nomination – didn’t bother to stop by, except to raise money.

Missouri’s 2016 version of the presidential primary – set for March 15 – complies with both parties’ mandates. And since a new presidency will be at stake, many of the hopefuls in both parties are paying attention to the Show Me State.

Twenty-five states will host presidential primaries or caucuses before Missouri voters go the polls. But March 15 could be pivotal, since the larger key states of Illinois, Ohio, Florida will be holding primaries on the same day.

The upshot, says state Republican Party chairman John Hancock and others, is that Missouri could be a contender.

“If we’ve still got three, four or five candidates who have a real shot, then the 52 (Republican) delegates from Missouri could be a very big prize,’’ Hancock said.

To encourage that potential, the state GOP’s biggest annual statewide gathering – Lincoln Days – has been scheduled a few weeks later than usual. The weekend event will be at the end of February, about two weeks before the primary.

Lincoln Days also will be held in St. Louis, another reason Hancock is optimistic that some of the remaining Republican contenders may stop by.

While addressing Missouri Republicans, a presidential candidate’s visit will likely attract news coverage in southern Illinois, where many of that state’s Republicans reside.

“An advertisement in the St. Louis media market is going to hit two states that both have the same primary date on the calendar, so I would expect for St. Louis to be very impactful to the outcomes of both of their primaries,’’ Hancock said.

Clinton counters with Democratic list

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, appears to be seeking to derail any possible primary opposition in Missouri by promoting her longstanding edge among Missouri’s Democratic establishment.

On Friday, her campaign released a list of 60 Democratic officials who support her and are members of her “leadership council.” The list includes all of the statewide officials, notably Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, as well as both Democratic members of the U.S. House: Reps. Lacy Clay of University City and Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City.

All four are the council’s co-leaders. They also are among the majority on Clinton’s list who had endorsed her months – or even years – ago.

Her campaign said the council members are “community leaders who will help build a grassroots-driven volunteer team that will help Hillary to win the Missouri primary on March 15th.”

The council’s job, the Clinton campaign said, is to “serve as the in-state leadership for the campaign, amplifying the campaign’s national voice … and aiding the campaign with rapid response, organization building, grassroots organizing events, recruiting volunteer leaders, and identifying leaders for Get Out The Vote activities.”

Her campaign points to a New York Times story of six weeks ago, in which her advisers explained that the state-by-state rollouts of long lists of backers -- many of them already known -- are aimed at promoting her organizational skills.

There’s also the implication that with such hefty blocs of support, her nomination is inevitable – a message directed at her remaining rivals, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Clinton also rolled out the Vermont list of top Democratic supporters on Friday.

Her campaign has yet to release its Illinois Democratic list, which may be headlined by such notables as Sen. Dick Durbin, who has praised Clinton for months – but has refrained so far from issuing an outright endorsement.

Primaries may be high point for Missouri

By both parties’ private reckoning, the Democratic presidential nominee won’t need Missouri in November 2016 to win the White House. But the Republican will.

Democrats’ state-by-state formula doesn’t require Missouri’s 10 electoral votes to get the necessary 270 electoral votes to win election. But for Republicans, Missouri is crucial.

Thus, Republicans are more likely to campaign in Missouri before the March 15 primary, and after. The Democratic candidate – list or no list – may not.

Some Republicans privately predict that Missouri may see little post-primary campaigning in the state. If the Democratic nominee is doing well enough in that party’s must-win states, the Democrats may – as Obama did for 2012 – write off Missouri. Republicans then would assume victory, and their nominee might opt against spending much time in Missouri, either.

The reverse is true in Illinois. Democrats need that state’s 20 electoral votes to win the White House. Republicans don’t.

So more Democratic campaigning is expected across the river, especially around vote-rich Chicago. Depending on how the Republican nominee is doing elsewhere, that GOP campaign may spend little time in Illinois, except to raise money.

Clinton leads bi-state money chase

Clinton has collected more money in Missouri than the combined tallies of the crowd of Republican presidential contenders. But that’s seen largely as a credit to her chief money-raiser in the state, Joyce Aboussie, the longtime national political director to now-retired U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt.

Aboussie, who lives in St. Louis County, is considered one of the most influential and successful Democratic fundraisers in the country.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reports that Clinton has raised close to $1 million in Missouri as of last month. The bulk of Clinton’s money raised in Missouri has come from the St. Louis area. In Illinois, she's also raised the most of any presidential contenders: $2.6 million.

Among Republicans, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the top presidential money-raiser in Missouri. But that’s due, in part, to his strong family connections in the St. Louis area.

Bush had collected close to $300,000 in Missouri as of last month, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is close behind, with roughly $237,000. In Illinois, Bush also has outpaced his GOP rivals, raising close to $500,000.

Bush has had most of the support from Missouri’s Republican establishment. U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and former U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond are among the longstanding Bush supporters.

Lately, though, there appears to be a generational shift. Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, is among the younger Republicans in the state who appear to be siding with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also appears to be winning some political support, especially from Missouri’s strong of evangelicals. Some political experts predict that evangelicals could make up half of the Missouri Republicans who show up at the polls on March 15.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.