Partisan fervor at Missouri Democrat Days — except from the top

As might be expected at an openly partisan political event such as Missouri Democrat Days, speakers took plenty of jabs at their Republican counterparts Saturday. At least, most of them did.

They called Jefferson City Republicans “extremists” and derided the GOP's voter-identification campaign as “bull.” They called conservative activist Ted Nugent a “jerk.”

Partisan fervor was everywhere. The one exception? The party's leader, Gov. Jay Nixon.

Nixon's speech to a roomful of Democratic officials and activists — like the campaign last year that put him in his second term — was practically devoid of specific mention of his own party, let alone the other one.

“My job is to chart a course forward, and that course forward reflects the values of the party that I've been a proud member of for decades,” Nixon said after a speech from which, based on content alone, it might have been difficult to determine which party that was.

His speech did call for the state to accept the federal government's Medicaid expansion push, which Missouri Republicans oppose. He again threatened to lead a referendum for campaign contribution limits if the Republican-controlled Legislature doesn't act.

He didn't focus, as many others have, on the state GOP's push for a “right-to-work” system that critics say is aimed at gutting unions.

And the Republicans' voter identification push — which Democrats statewide and nationally deride as a blatant attempt at voter suppression — didn't get a mention.

“I just don't think that injecting the partisan, hyperpolitical Washington rhetoric into the Show-Me state is good for politics or good for policy,” Nixon said later.

That strategy by Nixon last year infuriated Republicans, who accused him of cynically running from his own struggling party. It helped get him re-elected by a landslide, even as President Barack Obama lost Missouri.

In any case, there were plenty of GOP-bashers on hand Saturday at the Hannibal Inn to pick up the slack.

“Washington wisdom says Missouri is a red state. It's not,” Secretary of State Jason Kander declared to the gathering, to raucous applause.

Kander noted that some Republicans believe the GOP lost most of its statewide races last year because they needed more competent candidates. “I'd argue that they need more competent ideas,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was absent from the event because she is out of state stumping for other Democrats, organizers said.

McCaskill's sister, Anne McCaskill Moroh, filled in for her, imploring the audience to work to defeat “Republicans whose rigid ideology they want to force on us at the expense of common sense and good government” in Washington and Jefferson City.

To an attendee who had, minutes earlier, sang “God Bless America” to the assembly while playing guitar, Moroh said: “I would take your singing over the Republicans' favorite jerk, Ted Nugent, any day.”

Two Missouri House Democrats, Jeff Roorda and Ed Schieffer, used the event to announce their 2014 campaigns for the state Senate, for the 22nd and 10th Senate districts, which are both opening up because of term limits.

The two largely rural districts to the south and west of St. Louis are held by Democrats. Roorda and Schieffer vowed to keep it that way, saying they would stress their anti-abortion and pro-gun views to the voters, while arguing that Republican leadership in Jefferson City has become extremist in other areas — especially related to labor.

“I've seen the legislature become more and more extreme,” Roorda said. He alleged the trend is especially evident in GOP bills aimed at organized labor, which he called “an attack on working families.”

“This is not your father's Republican Party,” Roorda said. “I don't think we've got to do a lot of selling to make people understand that.”

Schieffer said the Republican leadership's focus on things such as voter identification legislation, while failing to focus on economic development and jobs, is “almost unforgivable.” He called it “unequivocal bull” to suggest that voter fraud is a prevalent problem today.