Republicans nearly swept to victory in Southeast Missouri state representative races Tuesday night, defeating competitors handily in what turned out to be a grand old night for the Grand Old Party statewide and nationally.
The story was different in the 161st District, where incumbent Democrat Steve Hodges beat Republican challenger Ron McCormick, by a 55 percent to 46 percent margin, reversing the voting numbers in a last-minute push.
In the 157th District, Republican Donna Lichtenegger gained more than 82 percent of the vote, beating Constitution Party member Jennifer Friedrich. Lichtenegger will fill the seat vacated by Rep. Scott Lipke in the 157th District, which covers northern parts of Cape Girardeau County, all of Jackson, a small part of Cape Girardeau and most of Perry County.
"I've waited a long time for this," Lichtenegger, a retired dental hygienist, said while celebrating at her Jackson home. "I tell you there's a lot of work to get done and we've got to get to work right away." She said her first order of business is to listen to the concerns of her constituents. She said her top priority when she gets to Jefferson City is state job creation and extending rural health care.
In the 158th District, the Republican business executive Wayne Wallingford, claiming nearly 80 percent of the vote, beat Libertarian Robert Roland. Wallingford will fill the position being vacated by Rep. Clint Tracy, who won handily in the race for Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner. The 158th District includes most of Cape Girardeau.
"I worked real hard and the people who supported me worked real hard and it finally paid off," Wallingford said.
If he gets his way, Wallingford will be busy in the Missouri Legislature. He's eager to serve on the budget, economic development, health care and higher education committees.
"I want to work hard to start that engine, that small business engine which is the lifeblood of the state," he said.
In the 159th District Republican incumbent Billy Pat Wright, with 70 percent of the vote, defeated Democrat Bill Burlison, a lawyer and former U.S. representative. The 159th District covers the western parts of Cape Girardeau County and most of Stoddard County.
Wright expressed a common theme in a down economy, asserting his priorities in his return trip to the legislature would include creating new jobs, promoting business growth and expansion and the protection of seniors, veterans and children.
In Missouri House races, late Tuesday Republicans had taken eight seats from the Democrats, bringing their party 91 seats in the 163 seat body.
Lichtenegger said the big GOP gains in the state and nationally are a mandate from constituents who feel like they aren't being heard.
"I Think that's what this night is about, people are tired about not being heard," she said.