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Hodges enters the Democratic contest in the 8th congressional district; Black bows out

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2013 - The race for the U.S. Eighth Congressional District received a bit of a jolt Wednesday with the entry of state Rep. Steve Hodges into the Democratic fray.

And on Thursday, state Rep. Linda Black announced that she would no longer seek the Democratic nomination for the southeast Missouri-based seat. 

Hodges, D-East Prairie, told the Beacon in a telephone interview that he would submit his name for consideration when Democrats pick their nominee for the 8th District on Saturday in Poplar Bluff. Republicans tabbed House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, as their nominee last week.

The nominees in both parties would compete in a special election June 4 to select a successor to now-former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, who stepped down a few weeks ago to become head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“I feel like I’d be a great candidate in the 8th Congressional District,” Hodges said. “I’ve lived here essentially all my life. I know a great deal about the problems of the people and what it takes. And I would approach this in the same manner as state representative. I would represent the interests of the people of my districts – not Steve Hodges’ interest.”

Hodges’ entry is something of a surprise, as he had told reporters in January that he wouldn’t seek the nomination. He said one of his concerns was raising the necessary money to run in the GOP-leaning district.

But Hodges – who, among other things, owned a grocery store before entering state politics – noted that he was outspent when he first ran for the Missouri House in 2006 against Republican Gary Branum. He ended up prevailing, and has been re-elected three times since without difficulty. Most recently in 2012, he defeated Republican Neal Boyd – the winner of America’s Got Talent – by a landslide.

“I think the beauty of me at 64-years-old is that I don’t have an agenda that I have to satisfy anymore,” Hodges said. “I’m doing this because I want to."

Black bows out of 8th District scramble

The other reason why Hodges' entry was a bit surprising was that it appeared Democrats were rallying behind Black, a Desloge Democrat who has cut a decidedly conservative path in the Missouri House.

But on Thursday, she sent a statement to the Beacon stating that she decided against running for the seat this year.

"I am honored and humbled at the outpouring of support I have received from residents of the 8th District urging me to run for Congress," Black said. "However, when voters elected me to another term as state representative last November, it was with the expectation that I would serve a full two-year term. That is a commitment I fully intend to keep to the people of the 117th Legislative District. As a result, I will not be seeking the Democratic nomination for the upcoming special election in the 8th Congressional District."

Other Democrats seeking the seat besides Black, according to the Southeast Missourian, include 2012 nominee Jack Rushin, De Soto funeral home director Todd Mahn and former Blodgett Mayor Markel Fitchpatrick. 

In any case, the Democratic nominee will the face the challenge of contending with Smith on a decidedly Republican seat. Emerson won re-election last year with 71.9 percent of the vote. And she beat back a strongly funded challenge from Rolla Democrat Tommy Sowers in 2010, winning 65.6 percent of the vote before the 8th District went through redistricting.

For his part, Hodges said that he considers Smith, 32-year-old attorney, "very bright." He edged out nearly a dozen other GOP candidates -- including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, and state Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff -- to capture the nomination last week.

“I worked with him before and I have a lot of respect for him," Hodges said. "The pitch that I’m going to make is to sell myself and my knowledge of the area that I would hope to represent. I’m 64 years old … he’s 32. Now just because he’s young doesn’t mean he’s not capable. But, I’ve had business experience. I’ve had lots of experience. And that’s what life’s about – having experiences and learning from them.”

“I wouldn’t dare say ‘he’s a kid and he doesn’t deserve it.' That’s not true," he added. "But a lot times, I think a big source of knowledge is having patience and being able to listen." 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.