Jason Smith wins Republican nod in 8th District

Sunday, February 10, 2013
State Rep. Jason Smith of Salem, Mo., speaks after receiving the nomination of the Republican 8th District Congressional Committee after six rounds of voting Saturday in Van Buren, Mo. At right is committee chairman Eddy Justice. Smith will run in a June special election that will decide who will replace U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson. (Fred Lynch)

VAN BUREN, Mo. -- He needed 50 votes. He received 55.

Jason Smith described the range of emotions he endured through six rounds of voting.

"It was like a roller coaster," Missouri's House speaker pro tem said minutes after he emerged the winner of the 8th Congressional District's Republican nomination as chosen by an 84-member committee Saturday in Van Buren. "It was like going through six elections in one day."

Since former U.S. representative Jo Ann Emerson's Dec. 3 announcement of her forthcoming resignation, numerous Republicans have traveled the district seeking the support of committee members, who were charged with nominating a candidate to run in a June 4 special election to fill her seat in Congress.

Smith, along with former Missouri Republican Party director Lloyd Smith, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former state legislator Jason Crowell and state Rep. Todd Richardson, were seen as front-runners going into the weekend. By Saturday morning, the number of candidates in the field stood at 10 as former state treasurer and former state senator Sarah Steelman bowed out.

About 425 spectators joined 84 committee members and remaining candidates at the meeting in Van Buren, a city of about 832. Two members from the 86-member committee were unable to attend. The winner would need 50 percent of the 98 votes to be cast -- plus one -- or 50 votes.

Six rounds of voting took place before a winner was determined, but Smith built support ever so slightly in each round. All candidates received nominations from the committee, but those with the lowest number of votes were eliminated in each round.

In the first round Smith, with 28, had the most votes. His closest rival, Lloyd Smith, trailed by 14 votes. Bob Parker, a rancher and real estate investor from Raymondville, Mo., bested Kinder, Richardson and Crowell in the round.

By the third round, Smith had 34 votes. Former congressman Wendell Bailey of Willow Springs, Mo., was eliminated, and Parker saw his support begin to wane. As he waited for ballots to be counted, Parker offered an insight into his thinking.

"I guess my biggest problem right now are the Jason Crowell votes. We are both independent thinkers and draw similar votes," Parker said.

Votes for Smith swelled to 39 in round four, with Parker eliminated, and 47 in round five, as Richardson was cut from the field.

After a short break during which committee chairman Eddy Justice asked if any of the remaining candidates wanted out; Lloyd Smith withdrew.

Those familiar with a friendship between Lloyd Smith and Kinder knew where the former staffer for Jo Ann and her late husband Bill Emerson was attempting to throw his support.

But the votes for Kinder never materialized.

"As has been the case many times in the 32 years I have known Lloyd, I was moved by his act of friendship and selflessness, and it is never to be forgotten. It was very touching," Kinder said after the sixth-round vote in which Jason Smith secured the nomination.

Smith, 32, was first elected to the House in 2005 to represent the 120th House District, which covers parts of Crawford and Phelps counties. Through two public forums he voiced his beliefs in conservative values and spoke for limited government -- a message that resonated with committee members, who represent the 30 counties and legislative districts within the 8th Congressional District.

Smith visited with each of the 86 committee members at least twice, putting about 10,000 miles on his car in the process, he told the Southeast Missourian after the meeting.

During a news conference, Smith said the district can expect representation similar to that provided by Jo Ann Emerson if he were to win the special election. He noted one difference is that he is more conservative, although he does not hold the same position as Emerson on an issue like embryonic stem-cell research, which Emerson voted to allow.

"I'm not running to replace Congresswoman's Emerson's seat," Smith said. "I'm running to replace the peoples' seat of the 8th District."

Smith, who will remain in his role as speaker pro tem, plans to form a campaign team Saturday night and will try to raise between $800,000 and $1 million for the brief campaign.

Smith will run in a congressional district that has leaned heavily to the right since Bill Emerson was elected in 1980.

Libertarians also nominated a candidate Saturday to face Smith and a Democratic Party nominee. Democrats will nominate their candidate next Saturday in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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