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In Missouri, the path to choosing a Republican presidential nominee has been about as twisty as an Ozark mountain road. The state caucuses started Tuesday in southwest Missouri, and get underway across most of the rest of the state this morning.
Frank Morris from member station KCUR drove out for the first caucus, and reports that it was a messy process.
FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Cassville, Missouri is a little town on the edge of the Ozarks. During the Civil War, the Confederate state legislature convened here.
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MORRIS: Earlier this week, the Republican presidential caucus was the big draw. More than 250 people showed up, most planning to vote directly for the candidates. But, that was not to be.
DAVID COLE: OK. There - I want to clarify - I want to make sure that everybody's clear on what we're going to do here, OK?
MORRIS: David Cole, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, told caucus-goers that they'd be voting on delegates to attend district and state conventions, meetings weeks from now, where Missouri's actual voting delegates will be decided. The delegates picked at this caucus won't be bound to any particular candidate. Oh, and they have to be elected in slates.
The county GOP happened to have a slate prepared, as did the Tea Party. But most folks were blindsided by the rules, and party chair Cole had an angry crowd on his hands.
COLE: And I'm sorry that you didn't, that you weren't aware that that was the way of the process. I apologize.
MORRIS: The confusion's understandable. The rules for these caucuses are different from county to county. And here, in Barry County, only party activists had seen them beforehand.
Frank Hubert, a robust 80-year-old in a blue blazer and tie, was one of many to stand up and vent.
FRANK HUBERT: What we have had happen here tonight is totally unacceptable, and it is a de facto railroad job. That...
MORRIS: As tempers flared, it was clear this room was sharply divided between Tea Party supporters and traditional Republicans. Some likened the caucus to the U.S. Congress.
Ralph Kelley, a retired engineer backing Newt Gingrich, stepped out for a smoke.
RALPH KELLEY: I think that we should vote the Tea Party out of the Republican Party.
MORRIS: Tea Party folks weren't happy either. Teresa Petty is a Ron Paul supporter.
TERESA PETTY: I think it's a joke. I think every bit of this is a joke.
MORRIS: The frustration is well understood 60 miles away in the sunny offices of the political science department at Missouri State University.
GEORGE CONNOR: The process is chaotic. I think one word we could use is bizarre.
MORRIS: On top of that, Professor George Connor says Missouri Republicans already voted in a presidential primary this year, back in early February.
CONNOR: We had a primary which became a beauty contest. You know, a million-dollar primary that didn't count for anything.
MORRIS: Missouri Republicans decided to hand out delegates via a caucus system this year, but deadlocked with Democrats over striking the primary from the calendar.
Rick Santorum won February's non-binding primary vote, but no delegates were chosen. The caucuses will do that, eventually.
COLE: The count for the Tea Party slate in favor is 100.
MORRIS: Back in Cassville, the Barry County Republican Party's slate won this caucus. That means the delegates from this steadfastly conservative county will probably back Mitt Romney in the district and state conventions over the next couple of months. It will be at least that long before anything like a winner emerges.
Meantime, Frank Hubert has turned toward November.
HUBERT: I'm the ABO: Anybody But Obama.
MORRIS: And despite the byzantine nominating process, opposition to President Obama still unites the Republicans of Barry County, Missouri.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.
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