Emerson's seat draws interest from old, new blood

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The field of Republicans interested in being nominated to run in a special election next year that will determine a replacement for U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson grew quickly Tuesday, the day after the nine-term congresswoman announced she will leave Capitol Hill in February.

Wendell Bailey, a former congressman, state treasurer and one-time candidate for governor, along with state Sen. Dan Brown and attorney John Tyrrell announced their intent to pursue the nomination from the GOP's 8th District Congressional Committee.

On Monday Republicans Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, state party executive director Lloyd Smith, former treasurer Sarah Steelman and state lawmakers Jason Smith and Kevin Engler expressed interest in the seat, while several others said they would consider putting their names in for the nomination.

Emerson has accepted a job as president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a not-for-profit organization that represents the interests of rural electric cooperatives and public power districts.

Democrats who may want to seek a nomination from their own committee have remained mostly silent, apart from Todd Mahn, a businessman from Festus, Mo., who sought the 8th District seat earlier this year but dropped out of the race.

"I am a conservative Democrat, and I believe I can represent rural Missouri, and bring jobs to the 8th Congressional District. Career politicians are the problem in Washington; it's time we have a fresh face," Mahn said in a news release Tuesday.

Mahn dropped out of the race in early summer. If he had stayed in, he would have faced Poplar Bluff, Mo., chiropractor Jack Rushin in the primary. Emerson easily defeated Rushin in November. Rushin is the only other Democrat who has said he may seek the nomination.

There was early speculation among some Democrats that state Rep. Steve Hodges, who was elected last month in the 149th District to his third House term, might entertain seeking his party's nomination, but he shot down that idea Tuesday.

"Maybe some people might, but I've always said my response to this would be that I'm not going anywhere just because the grass looked a little greener on the other side," Hodges said.

Hodges is the only remaining Democrat in the legislature who hails from the Republican stronghold of Southeast Missouri. He added that he believes any Democrat who makes a run at the nomination "better know where their money is coming from," pointing out that Tommy Sowers, Emerson's challenger in 2010, came close to matching the Republican's fundraising but couldn't come close to ousting her. It could be the same with a new candidate, he said, depending on the GOP's choice.

"I suppose anybody's beatable," Hodges said, "but it's got to be under certain circumstances. Whoever does go for it will throw an absolute ton of money in it for sure."

Mike Masterson, chair of Cape Girardeau County's Democratic Party committee, said two candidates have expressed interest and are being discussed among committee members, but declined to identify them Tuesday.

"This all kind of happened so fast, at least publicly," he said of Emerson's decision to leave Congress, which Masterson said he and other committee members have thought could be coming for some time. "And anyway, it's early in the game," he said.

Members of each party's 8th District committee will select candidates for a special election -- a date that will be set by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Bailey said he is taking a different approach to seeking the nomination -- he only wants to finish out Emerson's term, he said in a phone interview Tuesday. Bailey believes others hope to hold onto the U.S. House seat much longer.

"I'm interested in being the elder statesman. I would like to be able to go to Washington and vote without thinking about re-election," Bailey said.

Brown, of Rolla, Mo., serves the 16th Senate District and was elected in 2010 after one term in the Missouri House. He said in a news release he has been approached by supportive citizens from across his district, and plans to give the opportunity "prayerful consideration" and speak with members of the committee to discuss possibilities.

Tyrrell is a private practice attorney from Mountain Grove, Mo., and teaches law courses at Drury University. In announcing his intent to seek his party's nomination, Tyrell labeled himself a "common sense conservative" and growing up as the son of a teacher and living on a family-run dairy farm as a child helped teach him the importance of education and the needs of rural communities.

Emerson will be a little more than a month into her ninth term if she leaves Congress as planned Feb. 8.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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