COLUMBIA – The new Columbia and Boone County delegation in the Missouri House of Representatives finally has taken shape after a campaign season that stretched back as far as September 2007. Voters concluded the long months of phone calls, door knocks, mailings and advertisements Tuesday by choosing five representatives to send to Jefferson City in January.
Overall, the Democrats came out on top, with Paul Quinn, Stephen Webber, Chris Kelly and Mary Still winning races in the 9th, 23rd, 24th and 25th districts, respectively. Republican Steve Hobbs of Mexico held on to win a fourth term representing the 21st District.
The 24th District race, the most expensive in the state, was the most heated in Boone County. Kelly narrowly defeated two-term incumbent Ed Robb and will return to the legislature after 14 years away.
Kelly garnered 12,491 votes, or 50.8 percent, to Robb's 12,080 votes, or 49.16 percent.
"I have to express my tremendous gratitude to Boone County for electing me for the 11th time," Kelly said during a celebration and watch party at Billiards on Broadway on Tuesday night.
"But before it'd never been this close," Kelly added.
The 24th District is no stranger to close races. Rural Boone County and Columbia voters re-elected Robb in 2006 over former Columbia Public Schools superintendent Jim Ritter, who now is interim superintendent, by just more than 200 of the roughly 16,000 votes cast that year.
Kelly said it took grit and hard work to win.
"It was all the little things that made the difference," Kelly said. "I have to thank (my campaign staff) for keeping me organized, for keeping me going on."
Neither Kelly nor Robb had lost an election going into Tuesday night. Something had to give.
Robb, who ran an aggressive radio and television campaign that sought to cast Kelly as a former legislator with a tax-and-spend agenda, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night. But Kelly said he and Robb shared a phone call to discuss the final results.
"I want to thank my extraordinary opponent, Ed Robb, who has offered to help me if I ever need any advice," Kelly said. "I am honored by his graciousness."
Kelly and Robb sparred during the campaign over how to improve the economy, health care and state funding for K-12 and higher education.
"We have a lot to do with improving education in this state," Kelly said.
"It's going to be an extremely tough year with the budget ... a very difficult financial year."
Kelly's campaign staff said his more positive campaign strategy resonated with the majority of his new constituents. Kelly promised that the first thing he will do in Jefferson City is try to mend the strained relationships between Republicans and Democrats in the legislature.
"We need to restore a greater degree of bipartisan efforts and greater cooperation in the General Assembly if we're going to serve the people of Missouri," Kelly said.
The 24th District race proved to be the most expensive state House race in Missouri history; Robb and Kelly nearly pulled in a combined $400,000 in campaign money.
In the 21st District, Hobbs won what will be his final term in the House, defeating Democrat Kelly Schultz of Shaw by a margin of 10,115 votes, or 56.2 percent, to 7,890 votes, or 43.8 percent for Schulz.
"It show our constituents are satisfied with the work we've done," said Hobbs, who was at a Republican watch party in Columbia. "Even in a year when people showed a need for dramatic change, voters showed they didn't need a change in the 21st District."
The mostly rural 21st District covers significant chunks of Boone and Audrain counties, as well as more sparsely populated portions of Callaway and Monroe counties. Hobbs has historically clinched the 21st District by attracting voters in Audrain County, the place he was born and raised. This year was no exception. Hobbs captured 1,980 more votes in Audrain County than Schultz, who took home just 82 more votes than Hobbs in Boone County .
Hobbs' successful bid extends the Republican hold on a district that was held by Democrats held from 1974 to 2002, said Patsy Luebbert, senior reference archivist at the Missouri State Archives.
Hobbs, a farmer, said previously that his priorities for the coming session include advancing a pilot program establishing rural health clinics, creating jobs in agricultural research and promoting fiscal responsibility.
Schultz said she was proud of the campaign she ran and that, win or lose, she would continue to serve Missourians at the Capitol as a legistative assistant for Sara Lampe (D-Springfield).
Democrat Mary Still won the 25th District seat vacated by Judy Baker, who lost her bid for the 9th District congressional seat. Still defeated Republican Ryan Asbridge by a vote of 11,669, or 64.7 percent, to 6,360, or 35.3 percent.
Still has served as a spokeswoman for Attorney General and now Gov.-elect Jay Nixon and for former Gov. Bob Holden. She also worked as director of the MU News Bureau.
"I am honored and excited," Still said after watching returns at the Tiger hotel. "And I'm looking forward to getting to work. We have important issues to tackle. First is support for the University of Missouri."
Asbridge was called to active duty by Naval Intelligence only weeks before Election Day. For the last part of the campaign, he could not disclose the location or duration of his deployment, even to his campaign staff.
Even before Asbridge's unexpected absence, the race was a contrast in campaigning strategies. Still, who called upon a well-established network of Missouri politicians, aggressively pursued votes by going door-to-door, distributing lawn signs and holding fundraisers. Asbridge chose a more low-key approach to spreading his name and views, reserving much of his campaigning to his speeches at public forums.
Both candidates identified education as a major issue in the 25th District, which includes both MU and Hickman High School. Despite being from different parties, the candidates had strikingly similar stances on education policy. Both opposed school-choice programs such as vouchers. Still, however, opposed any such program, while Asbridge opposed forcing individual districts to implement such programs.
Asbridge campaign manager Yancy Williams declined to comment.
In the 23rd District, Stephen Webber had an easy day Tuesday, facing no opposition in the general election. He defeated Democrat Candie Iveson in the August primary to win the seat.
In the 9th District, which spans rural areas of Boone, Monroe, Audrain and Howard counties, Paul Quinn faced no opposition in either election and will serve a second two-year term.