Hodges, a conservative Democrat from East Prairie, Mo., who said he's not a Republican because he has a "social conscience," won after only one round of voting at the Democratic 8th District selection committee's meeting Saturday.
Hodges earned 39 votes, De Soto, Mo., funeral home director Todd Mahn received 27 votes, and former Blodgett, Mo., mayor Markel Fitchpatrick garnered two votes.
With a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the selection committee kicked off its nominating meeting, capping days of shifts in the candidate list that saw one state representative drop out and another one enter the race.
In the end, it was Hodges who was selected to run under his party's banner in a June 4 special election to replace former U.S. representative Jo Ann Emerson, who resigned last month to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
"This is very humbling," Hodges said after winning the nomination. "In politics there are only winners and losers, and I hope to give you folks a winner."
Hodges, 64, a former grocery store owner, represents the 149th District in the Missouri House, which covers most of Mississippi County, about half of Sikeston, Mo., in Scott County, all of New Madrid County and the northern part of Pemiscot County. Described as a conservative Democrat because of his position against abortion -- though Republicans point out he recently lost an endorsement from Missouri Right to Life -- and his support of gun rights, he hopes that his race against the Republican nominee, Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, will be civil.
"Jason Smith and I were friends before this race started and I hope it stays that way," Hodges said. "That's how I was raised."
Libertarians selected their nominee, Bill Slantz, Feb. 9. Independent candidates also have time to enter the race if they can gather the required petition signatures.
Hodges was the last to enter the campaign for the Democratic nomination, announcing his decision Wednesday.
"I know I got into the race late," he said. "But I don't want to do anything unless I do it right. But I'm here at the right time, and I can beat Jason Smith in June."
The selection followed opening speeches, a question-and-answer session and a round of closing speeches by each candidate.
Mahn, saying the "national spotlight for the next four months is on the 8th District," pledged to work to create more and better jobs in the district. Mahn also had harsh words for the state of the district's economy since Republication representation began in 1981.
"I would be appalled if I were the Emersons and left the 8th District as the poorest in the state," he said.
Markel Fitchpatrick stressed "the Christian way is taking care of your neighbor," in a speech that also talked about the need to address poverty. "I've seen factories close in Kennett, Charleston, Poplar Bluff, Chaffee," Fitchpatrick said, stressing that people should buy American-made products and advocating tariffs on cheap imported goods.
Hodges said his hometown of East Prairie "is not a town of prosperity," referencing factory closings.
The poverty in the 8th District was an overriding theme with the candidates.
During a question-and-answer session, Hodges praised Jo Ann Emerson and her late husband Bill Emerson, who represented the district from 1981 to his 1996 death, as advocates for labor and agriculture. He touted his service on agricultural committees in Jefferson City, Mo., and also voiced support for Jo Ann Emerson's vote in support of "fiscal cliff" legislation in the face of Republican opposition.
All three candidates positioned themselves as conservative Democrats. Mahn said he opposes higher taxes, Fitchpatrick advocated the use of more coal to cheapen electricity and boost the economy; and Hodges stressed his conservative credentials throughout. Fitchpatrick even advocated the use of corporal punishment in schools to improve student performance.
Hodges, like Mahn and Fitchpatrick, opposed the use of vouchers as a way to improve public schools in the 8th District.
"School vouchers? No. They are bad for rural Missouri," he said to applause.
While the candidates agreed on many policy issues, it was experience that won the day. Hodges was the only candidate with time in state government on his record.
Mike Masterson, chairman of the Cape Girardeau Democratic Party, said a good choice had been made with Hodges.
"He's a conservative Democrat," Masterson said. "We can match our competition one on one."
The Democratic field for the nomination was trimmed before voting began Saturday when chiropractor Jack Rushin dropped out of the race, citing the need to spend time with his family.
State Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, Mo., dropped out of the race Thursday.
Fitchpatrick, the third-place finisher for the nomination, said he will support Hodges.
"I'll make myself available to work for him and speak for him anytime," Fitchpatrick said.
Todd Mahn, second-place finisher, was more reserved about his support.
"I'm going to take some time and think about things before I make a decision," Mahn said.
2750 N. Westwood Blvd., Poplar Bluff, Mo.