Republicans and Libertarians on Saturday named their candidates for a June special election for Missouri's 8th Congressional District. This weekend, Democrats are expected to do the same. A three-way contest to take over the U.S. House of Representatives seat vacated in January by Jo Ann Emerson is almost a given -- that is, unless a fourth choice on the ballot were to come in the form of an independent candidate.
An independent candidate could be placed on the June 4 ballot if he or she gathers signatures from registered voters equal to 2 percent of the total votes cast in the November 2012 congressional race -- just more than 6,000 -- and have those signatures certified with the secretary of state by March 30.
Democrats, who will nominate a candidate Saturday in Poplar Bluff, Mo., have said they are hopeful an independent candidate will end up on the ballot, because they believe it might give an edge to their yet-to-be-determined nominee over a Republican in a district that has experienced a sway in support for the Republican Party since the 1980s.
Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith won the Republican committee's nomination, besting nine other candidates Saturday afternoon. He told reporters at a news conference he does not expect a challenge from anyone who was seeking the nomination.
On Monday, at least one of the candidates thought most likely to make an independent attempt after being spurned at the Republicans' meeting, quashed the idea of an independent bid.
"I've had people wanting me to consider that," said Bob Parker, a Raymondville, Mo., rancher and real estate investor, of trying for an independent run. "I appreciate that, but I have always tried to work through the Republican Party, and that's still how I feel. So I won't be pursuing it [by] another route."
Parker, flanked by visible support at the Republicans' nomination meeting, received 13 votes in the first round of voting by committee members and stayed in the contest through four of the six rounds. Smith received the most votes in the first round -- 28 -- and kept gaining until he reached the required 50 to win.
An independent candidate on the ballot is a scenario 8th District voters have seen before -- most recently in 2010 -- when Larry Bill, an Air Force veteran and small-business owner from Jackson, ran against Emerson, Democrat Tommy Sowers and Libertarian Rick Vandeven. In that election, Bill received 3.7 percent of the vote.
Emerson ran as an independent when she was first elected in November 1996. When her husband, Bill Emerson, died, Jo Ann Emerson ran as a Republican candidate in a special election to serve out the remainder of his term, but as an independent in the regular election, and won both. Jo Ann Emerson, however, had the backing of the Republican party in the elections -- something Bill said he believes is unlikely for any Republican who might try to challenge Smith.
Also unlikely, according to Bill, is the ability of any independent to gather enough signatures in a seven-week period.
During a year of working with an eight-person team led Bill to procure 6,694 valid signatures, which was about 1,100 more than were required to file at the time. That won't make much of a difference in the overall outcome of the election, he said Monday.
"As hard as I worked on my campaign, I got almost exactly as many votes as I did signatures. You need a party. You need a structure to accomplish anything," he said.
Independents don't often win congressional races -- there are currently no independents serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. There are two independent members of the U.S. Senate: Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Both caucus with Democrats.
Liz Abram-Oldham, communications director for Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, said Monday that the office has no way of knowing if independent candidates are attempting to gather signatures because the office does not track petitions before submission.
Van Buren, Mo.
Poplar Bluff, Mo.