Republican presidential candidates Herman Cain and Mitt Romney filed Tuesday for Missouri's primary, though the state Republican Party has decided to choose delegates to the national convention through a caucus process later in the year.
Missouri's Feb. 7 primary is about a month earlier than what is allowed by the national Republican and Democratic parties. The results will not be binding for Republicans, and the Democratic presidential race isn't expected to be competitive because President Barack Obama is running for re-election. The Libertarian and Constitution parties will choose their presidential candidates at conventions.
Some lawmakers have suggested scrapping the primary and saving taxpayers the millions of dollars it will cost. But some officials have said it gives voters a chance to express their preference and could help shape caucus results.
Cain's campaign submitted paperwork minutes after the filing period opened. Romney's filing was submitted a little more than an hour later by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, state Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey and state Rep. Jay Barnes.
Blunt, who is leading Romney's efforts to build support among congressional Republicans, said he believes the former Massachusetts governor is in the best position to win. Blunt said that although the state's primary is not binding, it comes fairly early in the process and Missouri is an important state in presidential politics.
"The primary will help set the stage for the caucuses but clearly the caucus where the delegates will be awarded is the focus leading up to the convention," Blunt said.
None of the other major presidential candidates filed Tuesday, but little-known candidates, Gary Johnson of El Prado, N.M. and Michael J. Meehan, of St. Louis, also filed for the state's primary.
Presidential campaigns can file for the Missouri primary until 5 p.m. on Nov. 22. Candidates who filed Tuesday drew numbers to determine their order on the ballot. Those that enter later are listed by the order in which they filed.
That means that Johnson will appear first on the ballot. He will be followed by Cain, Romney and Meehan.
Missouri's presidential primary has prompted significant debate this year. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved legislation in the spring to hold the primary in March to comply with the national parties' rules. However, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed that measure because of concerns with an unrelated provision.
Lawmakers revisited the issue during a special legislative session that started in September. Senators ultimately deadlocked last week over a proposal that called for eliminating next year's presidential primary and bringing it back for the next presidential election in 2016. The Senate adjourned Tuesday.
Officials said the Missouri primaries in 2008 - which featured competitive races for Republicans and Democrats - cost about $7 million and had more than 1.4 million votes cost. In 2004, only the Democrats had a competitive primary because Republican President George W. Bush ran for re-election. That election cost about $4 million and roughly 543,000 votes were cast.