Kansas City, Mo. — Kansas and Missouri Republican Assemblies are co-hosts of their first-ever "presidential preference" convention this weekend.
Ten months after being ousted from power in the state party, a group of conservative Republicans from Kansas hopes to play a big hand in presidential politics this weekend.
The Kansas Republican Assembly and its Missouri counterpart are co-hosts of a national convention starting today in hopes of rallying conservative voters around a single GOP candidate.
"It's the first chance that I'm aware of where a number of conservative delegates from around the country can get together to choose a candidate that we want to throw our support behind," said Kansas Republican Assembly president Herb Taylor.
Candidates Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer are all slated to make speeches during a "Restoring the Dream" rally Saturday. Conspicuously absent from the gathering, however, will be the moderate GOP front-runners, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Several observers say the gathering could be either a test or a demonstration of how much strength the conservatives still have in the party.
"If the Republican Assembly bolted from the Kansas Republican Party, who would notice?" asked Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis.
That may be one of the central questions on everyone's mind this weekend, even those who dismiss the Republican Assemblies as extreme right-wing splinter groups.
That's because the most high-profile conservative in the race, Pat Buchanan, has indicated he will announce by Oct. 15 whether he will stay in the GOP race or drop out to join Ross Perot's Reform Party.
Pete McGill, the Kansas chairman for the Bush campaign, said most people in the party are less concerned about Buchanan leaving than about the number of voters he might take with him.
Although Republican Assembly officials insist their organization is loyal to the party and will only back a Republican candidate, they also concede that those loyal to Buchanan may follow him wherever he goes.
If Buchanan makes a strong showing in Saturday's straw poll and Sunday's presidential preference vote, conservatives say, the mainstream of the party will have to work harder to prevent conservative voters from bolting as well.
"If they don't do that, they've lost," said Paul Haughton, a convention organizer from the Alabama Republican Assembly. "If (Kansas Gov. Bill) Graves and others don't change their attitude (toward conservatives), then we're going to lose Congress."
While some observers -- especially the moderates who now control the Kansas Republican Party -- dismiss the assemblies as extremist splinter groups, members of those organizations claim they are the true standard bearers of GOP ideals.
In fact, much of the convention will be geared toward pushing the idea that it was the conservative voters who elected Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980 and 1984.
In a flurry of news releases from the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, organizers such as Taylor and Houghton repeatedly refer to their groups as the Reagan wing of the party.
But the moderates who now control the Kansas GOP say the Republican Assembly represents only a small group of ultra-conservative activists who took over the party briefly in 1994 and were ousted in 1998.
The list of Kansas delegates to the convention includes several members from the former conservative regime.
Besides Taylor, the group includes former GOP state chairman David Miller of Eudora, who resigned to run against Graves for governor last year; Kansans for Life activist Tim Golba of Johnson County; and former Shawnee County Republican chairwoman Rene Armbruster.
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