(AP) — The chairman of the Missouri Republican Party said Monday that he is leaving to take a leadership position with a conservative interest group, a move that could avert a potential battle over the direction of the state GOP.
Republican Chairman Ed Martin said he has accepted an offer to become president of the Eagle Forum, an organization founded several decades ago by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. His new position starts immediately and is full-time, so Martin said he is dropping his party re-election bid.
Martin said he is the first person other than Schlafly to be president of the group. Schlafly, 91, will remain as chairwoman and CEO.
The Missouri Republican State Committee is to meet Feb. 21 to select a chairman. Martin was being challenged by Republican consultant John Hancock, who has raised concerns about the party’s finances heading into the 2016 elections. It’s unclear whether any other candidates will come forward to run against Hancock.
Martin, 44, of St. Louis, had been chairman since defeating David Cole in a party shakeup after the 2012 elections, when Republicans gained state legislative seats but lost races for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide offices. Martin lost a bid for attorney general that year, and he said the party brass had lost touch with rank-and-file members.
Martin said is he leaving the party in better shape.
Martin said his departure has nothing to do with the challenge from Hancock, who has described the party’s finances as a disaster. At times this past year, the party has reported just a few thousand dollars in its bank accounts, with debts nearly equaling or exceeding the available cash.