JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican state Rep. Jason Smith won a special election Tuesday for a vacant congressional seat in southeast Missouri that had been held by the same political family for the past 32 years.
Smith carried about two-thirds of the vote while defeating Democratic state Rep. Steve Hodges and several others in the reliably Republican 8th Congressional District. He will succeed Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican who resigned in January to lead the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Smith said in an election night interview that he plans to fly to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday with the hope quickly taking the oath of office.
"We've been without representation in the 8th District the last 134 days, and I'm going to stay up there until the speaker of the House will swear me in," Smith said.
Smith's victory marked a generational, geographical and — to a lesser extent — philosophical shift in the representation of one of Missouri's largest, poorest and most rural congressional districts. Smith, who turns 33 later this month, will be one of the youngest members of Congress. He is taking over a seat first won by Emerson's late husband, Bill Emerson, in November 1980 — just a few months after Smith was born.
Unlike the Emersons, who were from the district's largest city of Cape Girardeau along the Mississippi River, Smith comes from a rural area near Salem in south-central Missouri's rolling hills.
And although both are Republicans, Smith enjoyed support among some tea party activists and has a more conservative bent than Jo Ann Emerson, who developed a reputation as a moderate.
As he had in the campaign, Smith used his victory to immediately take aim at President Barack Obama.
"This is a conservative district, without a doubt, and they don't believe in the policies of Obama, of more regulation," Smith said. "They don't support Obamacare and they want fiscal constraint whenever it comes to balancing the budget."
Hodges, who ran as a conservative Democrat, attributed his loss largely to party affiliation and the Emersons' legacy.
"I think he got a tremendous amount of lead off of 30 years of Republican domination" in southeast Missouri, Hodges said in an interview after conceding to Smith. "The Emersons, for the most part, left a good taste in everybody's mouth."
Jo Ann Emerson first won a special election for Congress in 1996 after Bill Emerson died of lung cancer. She announced her resignation last December — just one month after cruising to re-election — and officially stepped down Jan. 22.
As a Republican, Smith immediately became the favorite to succeed her after an 84-person regional GOP committee nominated him from among 10 candidates during a multiround voting process in early February. He appealed to party insiders by promising a "fresh approach" and denouncing "reckless spending in Washington."
During his campaign against Hodges, Smith called for the repeal of Obama's health care law and pledged to fight regulations affecting small businesses. He touted endorsements from Missouri Right to Life, the National Rifle Association and various agricultural groups while describing himself as a "commonsense conservative."
Smith served the past seven years in the state House, where he rose to become the No. 2 ranking official in a chamber where term limits generally cap people at eight years of service. He owns a family livestock farm, is an attorney and also is a partner in a real estate business.
Hodges, 64, of East Prairie, is a former supermarket owner and high school sports referee. He spent a dozen years on a local school board and first won election to the Missouri House in 2006.
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