The first forum will be Jan. 10 at the Salem, Mo., city hall. The second will be Jan. 17 at the Concourse building in Cape Girardeau. The Southeast Missouri Pachyderm Club will host the Cape Girardeau event, which begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.
Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, who soon will begin a 10th term in Congress representing the 8th District, announced in early December she will resign to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Since then, many Republicans and a few Democrats have expressed interest in becoming nominees to run in a special election that will determine Emerson's replacement. Members of Republican and Democratic committees in the district will vote to select nominees after Emerson officially leaves office.
Holly Lintner, vice chairwoman of the Republican's 8th District committee and a member of the Pachyderm Club, said participants will be asked to give opening statements at the Cape Girardeau forum and are expected to answer questions from club members.
Invitations are being sent to 17 people who have expressed a definite interest in the nomination.
Committee members are a part of a waiting game until Emerson's resignation is official.
"Everything is pretty much liquid right now," said Eddy Justice, chairman of the committee. "It's just [the committee's] job to determine who the nominee is."
Uncertainty surrounds the date of a special election to replace Emerson. Gov. Jay Nixon can select a date after he receives notice of her resignation. The secretary of state also contacts committee heads upon the resignation to notify them of a vacancy. The committees then will hold meetings to select their nominees.
When Emerson announced plans to leave Congress, she said she would resign Feb. 8, but has since suggested she might move the date up so a special election can be held as soon as possible.
"I am willing to move the date so that there is no excuse with not doing the election in concert with municipal elections, and in which case we would be able to save a lot of money," she said in a phone interview last week.
Emerson said the date could be during the last couple of weeks in January, but that would depend on what action she needs to take as a member of Congress. She wants to be sure she can vote on several issues, including those related to the fiscal cliff and a farm bill, she said.
Emerson's spokesman and chief of staff, Jeffrey Connor, said no updates on a possible revised resignation date were available Friday.
Earlier this month, the secretary of state's office estimated a special election would cost $952,000. Combining a special election with municipal elections could reduce the cost.
While there is a large interest in the nomination from Republicans, Justice said the role of the committee will not include an attempt to narrow the field.
"My first mission and responsibility in this is to make sure that the process is smooth, fair and transparent," he said. "I think if we do anything to narrow or to limit people from being nominated, then we are taking too much control of the process."
The committee still has some identifying details to work out on some candidates who only recently have announced their interest. A list of potential candidates provided by the committee Friday included well-known names -- current officeholders at the state and local levels -- along with several who need to be contacted for more information, according to Lintner. Two potential nominees, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan and Justice, have decided not to seek the nomination.
Wendell Bailey, a former Congressman, formally announced Friday he is seeking the nomination. He spent the day touring the district, contacting media along the way.
Bailey said he is interested in replacing Emerson only until her next term expires in November 2014, which he said he believes will help the Republican Party by allowing voters to choose the candidate in a primary to be held in August 2014.
"I'm trying to get them to take a different approach," he said. "I'm saying, let the people decide."
Bailey sees the replacement for Emerson as especially important because he believes whoever wins the seat in 2014 will remain there for a long time. Emerson's late husband Bill held the seat from 1980 until his death in 1995. Jo Ann Emerson began her first term in Congress in 1996 after a special election.
Soon after Emerson said she would resign, State Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, announced he would be seeking the nomination.
Democrats have not yet scheduled any forum events or meetings, according to local committee members. Two Democrats have expressed interest in seeking the nomination -- Jack Rushin, a chiropractor from Poplar Bluff who lost to Emerson in the November election, and Todd Mahn, a businessman from Festus, Mo.
Art Cole, chairman of the Democrat's congressional committee, could not be reached by phone Friday.