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Emerson Resignation Sets Off Scramble in Missouri

Missouri Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson’s announcement Monday that she will resign from the House in February sets up what is likely to be the second special election of the 2014 cycle.

But unlike the late February Democratic free-for-all to fill the vacant seat in Illinois’ 2nd District, the special election to replace Emerson looks to be relatively drama-free.

Under state law, there will be no primary for the special election. The 8th District party committees will choose nominees. The chairman of each committee is to be notified within 24 hours of the vacancy.

The Republican nominee is likely to be the next member representing the district, which is safe GOP turf.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith, Emerson’s former chief of staff, is seen as the favorite for the local GOP nod.

“If Lloyd wants it, it’s his,” one Missouri Republican insider said.

“Lloyd Smith has and still does have that district committee on his side,” a Missouri GOP operative said. “If I had a bunch of money on it, I’d say Lloyd.”

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, but some Republicans in the state appear loath to lose him in his current statewide position. If Kinder left his lieutenant governorship, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would appoint his replacement.

Other potential GOP contenders for the 8th District seat include former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, state Sens. Kevin P. Engler and Jason Crowell, state Rep. Jason Smith and state Sen.-elect Wayne Wallingford.

Democrats are bearish on their prospects. “Look, that’s a pretty hollowed-out district,” a Missouri Democratic strategist said. “The Democratic bench in those counties is just gone.”

Emerson’s announcement that she’s leaving to take a job as president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association came as a surprise.

“I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service — to the contrary — I see a new way to serve,” she said in a statement. “I did not go seeking this opportunity, but I am excited about the new challenge it offers to find ways to promote strong rural policy.”

Once the vacancy is official, Nixon will call a special election to be held no less than 10 weeks later. Insiders expect the election to be held around June, though it could be earlier.

Emerson was first elected to Congress in a 1996 special election. Her late husband, GOP Rep. Bill Emerson, held the seat previously. In her first general election, she won with only 50 percent of the vote, but she has subsequently cruised to re-election victories. She won last month with 72 percent of the vote.

The 8th District covers a wide swath of southeastern Missouri, bordering Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.

Emerson has been a moderate during her tenure in the House, something she made reference to in her statement.

“Our congressional district is big, it is diverse, and it demands practical representation by someone who places us and our home ahead of politics and partisanship,” she said.

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