FENTON, Missouri — Marketing executive Mark Mantovani, a Democrat, is rebranding himself as a Republican for a rematch with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.
In a closed session, the St. Louis County Republican Party Central Committee hand-picked Mantovani on Monday night to carry their party banners against Page in the general election, which is eight weeks from Tuesday night.
Page defeated Mantovani in the 2020 Democratic primary, but after Republican nominee Katherine Pinner abruptly quit, party officials coalesced around Mantovani as their best strategic pick to oust Page from the top job in county government.
"We all know that the Republican party is not a majority party in St. Louis County," he told the committee after they appointed him. "It's going to take voters who don't always vote with the Republican party, with us."
Moments after securing the party nod, Mantovani spoke with reporters about his opportunistic shift in party alliances.
“I've just switched parties recently," he said. "I hope my friends in the Democratic Party know that I’m not abandoning them. I’m the same guy. I have the same views, I have the same opinions I always have.”
In 2018, Mantovani tweeted, "I’m a proud Democrat, standing up for equity on issues like race, employment, wages, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and educational opportunity. I believe that healthcare is a right, and Right to Work is wrong."
After learning about the revised ballot, a spokesman for Sam Page highlighted Mantovani's support for President Joe Biden in a statement.
“Over the next two months, the campaigns will make clear the real differences in temperament between the candidates and in protecting the reproductive health of County residents and in supporting organized labor," Page spokesman Richard Callow said in a text message.
"But for tonight, it is comforting to know that both the Democratic and Republican nominees for St Louis County Executive voted for Joe Biden for President,” he said.
During his opening remarks to the committee, Mantovani warmed up the room of GOP voters with a page out of former president Donald Trump's playbook and deployed some insulting nicknames to characterize his opponent.
"Over time, an enterprise reflects the personality of its leader, and Sleepy Sam's sluggish ways are anesthetizing our community," Mantovani said of the anesthesiologist. "He's got the energy level of a South American sloth, and we can't allow this to continue. He has become the lapdog of the 'Defund the Police' crowd, and we've got to change the leadership of the county now."
Mantovani's coronation didn't come without some bruised feelings. Supporters of Pinner's showed to protest and took issue with the way the proceedings were held.
Party chair Rene Artman squashed their complaints and muscled Mantovani through over candidates Ben Murphy and Rickey Joiner.
"This is a special meeting. There are special rules," Artman told some of the Republican critics. "I'm going by the special meeting rules. I'm doing what the lawyers are saying."
While the unlikely alliance might have ruffled the feathers of some Republican primary voters, it satisfied other prominent voices in the anti-Sam Page movement, including state representative Shamed Dogan and police union lobbyist Jane Dueker, both of whom lost their primary races for the county executive job.
"I've never been to a Republican meeting before," Dueker quipped while she waited outside the front doors of the party headquarters. "But somebody's got to finish the war I started."
"Mark is awesome," Dogan chimed in. "If I would've won the primary, he would've been helping me out."
"Me too," Dueker replied.
Mantovani later said he wasn't sure why Dogan lost his primary bid to Pinner. One of Pinner's supporters said she voted against him because she was under the impression that Dogan, a Black man, was "for that CRT stuff," referring to critical race theory, though he was not.
Pinner was not available for comment, but some of her allies said they would urge her to revive her candidacy again under a write-in movement.
"The short answer is: We need a candidate that can win," Artman told her Republican colleagues. "We can do this with the right candidate."
In the back of the room, Pinner's supporters whispered that they hoped the committee kept the copies of the paper ballots cast in Mantovani's favor, because they didn't trust the final count and planned to file an objection and contest his appointment.
The general election is in November.