The new chairman of the Missouri GOP came out swinging Tuesday, attacking Democrats as desperate and out of new ideas even as they threw race-tinged barbs his way.
Ed Martin, 42, was narrowly elected Saturday by the state Republican committee over incumbent David Cole. He promised to build an accessible party built on principles and open to party members of all stripes.
Martin characterized Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who is about to begin his second term, as a "bankrupt politician" who misled the state by never revealing his position on Obamacare. Nixon recently backed an expansion of Medicaid, which is part of the new national health care law.
Democrats greeted Martin's election with a four-page news release on Sunday that chronicled several controversies.
One was a 2007 email the party unearthed in an open-records request. It came in response to an inquiry about a judge that then-governor Matt Blunt was considering for the state Supreme Court. Martin, who was then Blunt's chief of staff, wrote that the judge, Nannette Baker of St. Louis, "was the worst I have ever seen. She is a black woman, pro-abort and very liberal."
Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who is the Missouri Democratic chairman, said Martin's e-mail comments were "shocking and frankly offensive" because Martin "once cited someone's race as a disqualifier" to serving on the state's highest court.
Baker was not appointed.
On Tuesday, Martin dismissed the criticism as slurs beneath the Democratic Party. He said he hadn't reviewed the Baker e-mail, so he couldn't comment on why he mentioned Baker's race. He said Democrats were exploiting race and urged Nixon to confront issues facing minorities.
Martin came under fire the same year for referring to Hispanics at a worksite as a "bunch of Mexicans" who were probably in the country illegally.
Martin resigned as chief of staff after Blunt's former deputy counsel, Scott Eckersley, alleged that the office was breaking the Sunshine Law by not retaining e-mails. After Martin fired Eckersley, the lawyer sued the state for wrongful termination and defamation. Taxpayers paid $500,000 to Eckersley and $1.3 million in lawyer fees.
Martin was swamped last year by Democratic incumbent Chris Koster 56 to 41 percent in the race for attorney general. In 2010, Martin lost to another Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, in the state's 3rd District.
His election as chairman was seen as a sign that the state GOP is turning rightward. The entire Missouri GOP congressional delegation backed Cole, who is regarded as a more moderate Republican. Martin acknowledged he has to earn the respect of GOP leaders.
He dismissed concerns that the GOP in Missouri is struggling to win statewide races. Two of the six statewide officeholders are Republican, although only one of those, Peter Kinder, was on the November ballot when Democrats won the four other offices and the U.S. Senate seat.
"We're talking about one election," Martin said.