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Hodges captures Democratic nomination for 8th District election

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2013 - State Rep. Steve Hodges snagged the Democratic nomination for the special election in the state’s 8th Congressional District, setting the field in the southeast Missouri-based contest.

Hodges, D-East Prairie, edged out two other contenders at meeting of Democratic committee members in Poplar Bluff. The four-term lawmaker received 39 votes from the committee, besting the 27 votes received by De Soto funeral home director Todd Mahn and the two votes nabbed by former Blodgett Mayor Markel Fitchpatrick.

“It’s very humbling,” Hodges told the crowd after receiving the nomination, which was broadcast online by the Southeast Missourian.

Hodges will square off against House President Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, and Libertarian Bill Slantz in the June 4 special election. That special election will determine the successor of 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.

While the GOP sprint for the 8th District nomination featured a long list of contenders, Hodges was widely considered the favorite going into Saturday’s meeting. That was especially the case after a one-time front-runner -- state Rep. Linda Black, D-Desloge -- decided against seeking the nomination.

Hodges' entry was somewhat of a surprise, as he had told reporters earlier that he would not seek the nomination. But in his acceptance speech, he harkened back to words his son Andrew made during his valedictorian address at West Point.

“He gave an address that I’ll never forget that talked about opportunities,” Hodges said. “And he said 'opportunities sometimes only come along once in your life.' And he said 'it’s your choice to decide to accept that opportunity or let it pass.'”

“As many of you know, I didn’t make my final decision to do this until the past Wednesday evening,” he added. “And I thought about it a great deal for several days this week. And I thought ‘I think God is presenting this an opportunity for me.’ So I need to decide whether this is something that I should try to take advantage of or let pass by. Because it’s not going to happen again.”

Before he entered Missouri state politics, Hodges was the owner of a grocery store in East Prairie. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southeast Missouri State University and a MBA from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Hodges first came onto the state’s political scene in 2006, when he entered the race for the open 161st District House seat. Hodges defeated Republican Gary Branum in an expensive contest, winning a seat that had previously been held by the GOP.

Unlike Smith, Hodges’ party has been entrenched firmly in the minority since he entered the Missouri House. For the most part, he’s fostered a fairly conservative record – including sponsoring or co-sponsoring legislation to restrict abortion rights and to allow prosecutors to carry guns.

But he also said he was in touch with the economic realities of the district, including his hometown situated close to the state’s Bootheel.

“I can appreciate the situation that we have in the 8th Congressional District with the challenges that people are making,” Hodges said. “I sometimes after church on Sundays drive around in my town and look at the houses and things people live in. And after taking the utility bills and their phone bills and the different things at my grocery store all these years… I often wonder how in the world do they get along?”

“And I’ve got some Republican friends when I ran for state representative for the first time… one of them even said he’d donate so much money to my campaign if I’d really admit that I was Republican,” he added. “I said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’ I said ‘I have a social conscience.’

Regardless, it could be an tough climb for Hodges. 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.

Missouri Republican Party chairman Ed Martin put out a statement shortly after Hodges received the nomination stating "Barack Obama knows that the only thing standing in the way of his extreme liberal agenda is the slim Republican majority in the House of Representatives."

“At a time when the federal government is encroaching more and more on the freedoms of Missourians, we simply cannot afford to send someone like Steve Hodges to Washington to help advance Barack Obama’s extreme liberal agenda," Martin said.

Smith received a warm reception on Friday speaking at the party's Lincoln Days banquet in St. Louis. Numerous Republican officials there -- including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin -- urged attendees to provide their time and money to Smith's campaign.

For his part, Hodges praised Smith in an interview with the Beacon as “very smart.” And during his acceptance speech, Hodges said that “Jason and I started out as friends and I hope we conduct this campaign as friends.”

“That was the way I was reared and that’s the way I intend to handle it,” Hodges said. “But in politics – as [Gov. Jay Nixon] has said – there is no second place. There are only winners and losers. And I hope to give you folks a winner.”

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