For incumbent U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, Tuesday's midterm election was supposed to yield an easy win. Missouri voters never got the message.
As election returns began to filter in from across Missouri's 4th Congressional District, it became increasingly clear that Skelton, a Democrat, was in a fight for his political life. Not long after 10 p.m., he conceded defeat to his Republican opponent, Vicky Hartzler.
At a watch party at The Farm in Garden City, Hartzler began her speech by congratulating Skelton.
Several hundred people crowded the event, smiles gleaming from their faces.
"I've told people all along this district has been fed up and fired up and ready to stand up, and we did," Hartzler said.
"Our voice is not being heard in Washington, D.C., but it is needed, and now I'm going to fight for you and be your voice," she said to thunderous applause, which persisted uninterrupted for a quarter of a minute.
Early in the election season, Skelton seemed all but ensured a pass back to Capitol Hill for an 18th term. A nationwide tone of mistrust for big government and dissatisfaction with liberal representatives already in office, though, left Skelton fighting for the chair he's held for 33 years.
Even as Hartzler took an early lead Tuesday night, the mood at Skelton's hometown watch party remained relaxed. Almost immediately after arriving at Lexington's Victorian Peddler antique shop, the congressman was whisked to a back room with his family, close friends and campaign team.
As Hartzler's advantage climbed, those gathered seemed unfazed. Without a television monitor in sight, 50 supporters sat, chatted and waited.
Martha Pollard and Anne Langkraehr of Concordia were among those out for Skelton. The two were present for his first election in 1977 and have been supporting him ever since.
"I would like to see (Skelton) retire when he wanted to retire," Pollard said early in the night.
Langkraehr added: "We think he earned that. He's honest — an honest politician."
At 10:15 p.m., Skelton emerged, flanked by his wife, Patty. Supporters applauded as he made his way to a podium, where he conceded defeat and announced he had called to congratulate Hartzler on her win.
The man who had never lost an election took time to reflect on his career as a U.S. congressman, calling his service to the people of his district the "political highlight of my life."
"For my entire life, I've had a love affair with the state of Missouri," Skelton said. "That love affair continues."
Skelton also took time to recognize his supporters.
"I hope that my service through the years has made them proud because I have been very, very proud to represent them," he said.
Pollard was one of those supporters. She worked with Skelton before she retired from her position as the public administrator of Lafayette County and said the defeat was a "tremendous loss in our district."
She, along with the rest of Skelton's supporters, left quietly, and the Victorian Peddler emptied within minutes.