Missouri GOPers Close Ranks Around Party Chairman After Candidate Suicide

Members of Missouri’s Republican Party Committee defended their chairman Friday against allegations that he carried out a “whisper campaign” about gubernatorial candidate and state Auditor Tom Schweich’s (R) faith.

Schweich committed suicide on Feb. 26 after hastily arranging an interview with local newspaper and Associated Press reporters in which he planned to publicly accuse state GOP Chairman John Hancock of telling people that he was Jewish. Schweich was an Episcopalian, although he had Jewish heritage.

But reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune showed that some members of the party organization believe there’s no evidence Hancock carried out such a “whisper campaign” and are not keen on the idea of ousting the chairman.

There have been calls for Hancock to lose his job, particularly after former U.S. Sen. John Danforth (R) gave a scathing eulogy against anti-Semitism and bullying in politics last week at Schweich’s funeral service.

Former Schweich spokesman Spence Jackson, former state House Minority Leader David Steelman (R), state Rep. Paul Fitzwater (R) and party stalwart Paul DeGregorio have all demanded Hancock’s resignation.

But the power to oust Hancock resides with state party committee members alone.

Sara Walsh, a Republican state committeewoman and employee of Schweich’s in the auditor’s office, told the Columbia Daily Tribune that she “strongly” supports Hancock and sees “no reason to call for him to step down or go along with people who say that.”

Two other committee members, Sarah Divoli and Bruce Buwalda, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they never heard Hancock say Schweich was Jewish. Buwalda told the newspaper that he’d stand by Hancock unless he saw evidence to the contrary, while Divoli said she didn’t believe Hancock should be removed as state party chairman.

One committee official who remained anonymous told the Post-Dispatch that committee members are under pressure to defend Hancock because they elected him to the chairmanship just days before Schweich took his own life.

“They’re digging in,” the committee official said.

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