The Missouri Republican Party’s executive committee voted 12-1 to allow the Republican National Committee to spend money on Attorney General Josh Hawley’s behalf ahead of the state’s contested primary.
The lone dissenting vote was Jackson County Republican chair Mark Anthony Jones, who accused his fellow state party leaders of treating Hawley like the de facto nominee in the U.S. Senate race before he’s won the primary.
An RNC rule prevents the national committee from spending money on behalf of candidates in states with contested primaries without authorization from the state party.
Chris Nuelle, the Missouri Republican Party’s spokesman, said in a statement that the party had previously voted to authorize the RNC to spend on behalf of candidates in contested primaries in the past, including Sen. Roy Blunt and former Sen. Jim Talent.
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"President Trump has endorsed Josh Hawley, and as was the case in 2006 and 2010, the MOGOP Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of our leadership signing a letter authorizing the RNC to spend on Hawley’s behalf before the primary,” Nuelle said.
Trump endorsed Hawley last year, held a fundraiser for him in St. Louis and has repeatedly touted his candidacy on social media.
Jones called the decision to allow the RNC to spend money on Hawley’s behalf a month before the primary “a slap at the grassroots” by the state party.
“If you’re picking winners and losers before the primary vote, you’re doing so without the grassroots voice. And that was my objection,” he said.
Jones said that the rest of the committee “basically rubber-stamped” the motion to suspend the rule, which was brought by state GOP chair Todd Graves, the brother of Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
“They pretend like there’s no primary,” Jones said.
Hawley has far outpaced the other Republicans in the race in terms of fundraising, but he has trailed incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., whose campaign war chest stood at $11.5 million in April compared to Hawley's $2.1 million. The race, which could decide control of the U.S. Senate, promises to be one of the most expensive in the country.
Hawley’s campaign did not say specifically whether it had pushed for party leaders to approve the measure, but the campaign said in a statement it would help the party defeat McCaskill.
"In 2012, Missouri Republicans failed to beat Claire McCaskill because the party failed to unite and choose a good candidate. No Missouri Republican wants that to happen again," Kelli Ford, Hawley's spokeswoman.
Heather Coil, the spokeswoman for Austin Petersen, one of Hawley’s primary opponents, blasted the move, which she contended was meant to boost Hawley over his primary competition.
“I think that these top-down maneuvers always tend to backfire. … We saw that in the Hillary Clinton campaign,” Coil said.
“It really does a lot to undermine the voters of Missouri by funneling money from other states through the national GOP to push their agenda. It’s up to the voters of Missouri to decide who they want to represent them in this election.”
The RNC did not immediately comment on what specific campaign work it would do in Missouri now that the state party has authorized it to spend money on Hawley’s behalf.