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Republicans choose state Rep. Jason Smith as 8th congressional district nominee

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 8, 2013 - Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, has beat out a dozen rivals to become the Republican nominee for the 8th District congressional seat recently vacated by Jo Ann Emerson.

He now will compete in the June 4 special election against an as-yet-unchosen Democratic rival.

The Associated Press reported that Smith declared after the vote, “We’re going to win this seat."

He then pledged to follow through with his call to cut federal spending: “The fiscal irresponsibility in Washington, D.C., is what’s destroying our country, and we’ve got to take control of it and get it back.”

Smith, 32, was chosen Saturday on the sixth round of balloting by the Republican committeepeople representing the various counties within the 8th, including part of Jefferson County.

By the state Republican Party's tally, "In the final round Smith received 55 votes to Peter Kinder’s 22 and Jason Crowell’s 22." Kinder is the current lieutenant governor and Crowell is a former state senator from Cape Girardeau.

Various GOP activists, many using Twitter, credited Smith's discipline and hard work as he traveled throughout the district to woo the committeepeople making the decision. He told the Beacon recently that he had made at least seven trips to Jefferson County, where Republican Party activists provided the largest bloc of nominating votes.

Saturday's balloting was held in Van Buren, Mo. If all 86 qualified voters were present, Smith needed 51 votes. (The 86 Republican leaders would cast a total of 100 votes, since some officials wielded two votes because they held dual GOP positions.)

The district's Democrats are expected to gather next Saturday to choose their nominee. Now that Smith has been chosen, the question will be whether some well-known Democrat who had not been looking at the seat changes his or her mind and jumps in.

The current perceived Democratic frontrunner is state Rep. Linda Black of Desloge.

(UPDATE) Former Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who oversees her family's farm in Rolla -- within the 8th District -- said in an interview Saturday night that she had no interest in seeking the congressional post.

Meanwhile, two of the state's most prominent Republicans -- state Auditor Tom Schweich and House Speaker Tim Jones -- issued statements praising Jason Smith.

"Rep. Jason Smith is one of the most respected, hard working, good-natured, and conscientious members of the Missouri House of Representatives," Schweich said. "I am very pleased that, with the support of the Republican voters of the 8th Congressional District, he will take his solid Missouri values and strong work ethic to the U.S. House of Representatives, which is in great need of both good ideas and civility..."

Said Jones, R-Eureka: "From my many years of experience working with Jason, I personally know he is a committed fiscal conservative like me who understands the importance of free markets and fiscal responsibility. Over the past several years, he has worked with me to fight for limited government, defend the unborn, and stand up for our Second Amendment rights..." (End update)

Contest attracts national interest

“The historic nature of this is huge,” said Republican Eddy Justice on Friday. Justice is chairman of the district’s Republican committee and the emcee for Saturday’s proceedings.

Emerson, who had held the congressional seat since 1996, left office a couple weeks ago to take a new job as head of the national Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Besides Kinder and Crowell, Smith's rivals had included: former state GOP executive director Lloyd Smith, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and state Rep. Todd Richardson.

Jason Smith had headed into Saturday's balloting with the largest bloc of votes but still far short of the number needed to win.

He then added a few more during each round of balloting, as the rivals with the lowest number of votes were knocked off.

Reflecting the national attention the race, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, released a statement shortly after the balloting had completed.

“I congratulate Jason Smith on his victory as he transitions toward what will be a successful general special election campaign. It is clear that much like Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, Jason will bring the fight to Washington to protect Missourians’ conservative and commonsense free market principles. With Jason in Washington, Missourians will have another great voice in Congress to represent their values. Jason Smith is the strong, pro-growth option in this race and I look forward to joining him in getting Americans back to work.”

All claimed to be strong conservatives

Smith, and his rivals, all touted themselves as staunch conservatives further to the right of Emerson, who was moderate on some matters regarding health care and the elderly.

The Missouri Times, a new publication focusing on the state Capitol, has posted question-answer segments featuring each of the candidates.Their comments mirror the candidates’ stump speeches during a recent forum in Cape Girardeau, in which all claimed to be fiscal and social conservatives.

The selection process had attracted attention well beyond the 8th District's borders. Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, who doesn't live in the 8th, announced this week that she was backing Kinder. 

But the Washington blog site "Hotline on Call'' -- an arm of the nonpartisan publication, The National Journal -- was reporting Friday that some GOP activists were arguing against Kinder because they feared Gov. Jay Nixon would appoint a Democrat to replace Kinder as lieutenant governor.

Saturday’s proceedings began at 10 a.m. Smith's victory wasn't certain until several hours later.

Jefferson County GOP chair Janet Engelbach is among the 14 Republican officials who cast two votes apiece because of dual GOP posts they hold. Her husband George Engelbach also is on the nominating panel, but will cast only one vote.

Janet Engelbach said Friday that the politicking had gotten intense, as the candidates and their allies make their appeals. “We have received oodles and gobs of emails and letters from people who are not on the (nominating) committee,” she said.

Until Saturday's balloting, most of the voting GOP officials had kept their preferences private -- including Justice.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.