Emerson announces she will not run for U.S. Senate

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said Tuesday that she will not seek to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill in the 2012 election, pointing instead to a strong desire to remain in the U.S. House to focus on issues she says matter most to her constituents.

The longtime Republican congresswoman, who won re-election to her eighth House term in November, had been weighing a Senate run, which would have pitted her in a primary race with former state treasurer Sarah Steelman and St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin.

Emerson cited two reasons for her decision: a passion for her current job and the realization that she could do more good as a senior House member than a junior senator.

"At the end of the day, if you love something as much as I do, why would I give that up?" Emerson said. "And spending 90 hours on the House floor last week really gave me a much clearer view of how much more of a difference I could make on policy matters that really impact us. I can't leave that behind."

Emerson, 60, has represented the 8th District since 1996 and is considered the dean of the state's delegation because she has been in Congress longer than anyone else in Missouri. She has handily won each of her re-election bids since taking over for her late husband, Bill Emerson.

Last month, Emerson was appointed chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services, a high-profile and influential position that gives her financial jurisdiction over more than 30 federal agencies.

"It doesn't make sense for me to leave as a senior member of the House and subcommittee chair to go be a junior senator," Emerson said. "For me, I think I can do more for the state and more for the district where I'm at."

She said a campaign would not leave her enough time to give her full attention to her House job and she didn't want to give those duties "short shrift" while she was on the campaign trail. For the Republican Party to claim the seat, she said, it would take someone willing to run an aggressive campaign and to devote 100 percent of their time.

"Senator McCaskill is vulnerable, but she will be a formidable opponent," Emerson said.

But Emerson did consider it, she said, because a Republican in that seat would change the whole dynamic of the U.S. Senate. Still, she said, the Republicans have a good opportunity to win.

Emerson said she wants to continue to focus on issues such as the economy, job creation, overturning the new health care law and reducing the deficit.

"We have a lot of challenges as a district, a state and a nation, and I've chosen where I can best be effective right now, promoting smaller government, working to create jobs and being a reasonable voice in our often-unreasonable capital," Emerson said.

Emerson's decision was somewhat surprising, said Will Miller, an assistant professor in Southeast Missouri State University's political science department. Miller, who has worked as a strategist and pollster for Republican and Democratic campaigns, said he understands Emerson's rationale that she would be moving to a less influential position.

"But I did expect her to run," Miller said. "But I think if she sat down and had the discussion about where she would serve the state better, then I think she made the right decision."

Emerson would have been competitive in a primary against Steelman, Miller said. He also is puzzled by the number of people who have opted out of a race against McCaskill, including former senator Jim Talent and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves.

Miller is dubious the GOP is solidly behind Steelman and said time is growing short for a dark horse -- particularly an unknown one -- to jump into the contest.

"I'm not convinced, looking at Sarah Steelman's history beyond the treasurer's race, that she's going to be able to beat an incumbent," Miller said.

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