COLUMBIA — Caleb Rowden was the only Republican to win a contested area seat in the Missouri House of Representatives on Tuesday, defeating veteran legislator and Democrat Ken Jacob to win the 44th District seat.
In the 46th District, incumbent Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, defeated Republican Fred Berry. And in the 47th District, Rocheport Democrat John Wright won over Republican Mitch Richards.
Rowden, a 29-year-old former Christian rock musician, emerged victorious in his first bid for political office, but it was by far the closest of the three contested House races involving Boone County. Rowden captured 7,995 votes, or 51.1 percent, to Jacob's 7,666, or 48.9 percent.
The 44th District encompasses much of northeastern Boone County, including parts of Columbia and extends north into Randolph County. Rowden said during his campaign that he would be a strong voice in the legislature for Missouri entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Rowden was a bit nervous as he paced around the banquet hall at the Holiday Inn Executive Center, where about 100 Republicans had gathered to watch returns. As state Sen. Kurt Schaefer announced Rowden's win, the crowd burst into loud applause and cheering.
"I'm feeling great," Rowden said. "Very tired, but it's 10 months of hard work, and now I have something to show for it."
Rowden said he looks forward to gaining momentum and representing the 44th District.
"I want to prove myself to voters," Rowden said. "I want to be the best state rep I can be and make sure I represent the people in the 44th District."
Jacob could not be reached for comment. He said during the campaign that he would have focused more attention on higher education, both in terms of state funding and in motivating young people to attend college. That message apparently wasn't enough.
In the 46th District, Webber's victory over Berry means he’ll serve a third two-year term in the Missouri House. He represented the old 23rd District during his first four years. Much of that district is included in the 46th. Webber is a Columbia native and veteran of the Iraq War who also has worked for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Webber garnered 12,188 votes, or 65.1 percent, while Berry received 6,558 votes, or 34.9 percent.
Webber mingled with supporters and fellow Democrats at Shakespeare’s South, which is within the 46th District, as the votes were counted Tuesday night.
“This is thrilling,” he said as the final results were reported. “I’m excited with my race and the rest of the state.” Webber was particularly happy about McCaskill's victory over Republican Todd Akin.
Shakespeare’s South, filled with jubilant people eating pizza and drinking beer, echoed with cheers of McCaskill supporters when her victory speech was broadcast on television. More cheers erupted when the final tallies for Boone County were reported.
“I’m really grateful for the support the district has shown me,” Webber said. “I’m looking forward to the next two years.”
Berry, a retired Army colonel who also worked on military education policy at the Pentagon, was upbeat after losing his first political race.
“I had an uphill battle from the beginning, but don’t think I could have gotten my message out any better,” Berry said from his home Tuesday night. “Tomorrow is another day. I’m happy to be alive, and I’m happy to be living in Boone County.”
In the 47th District, Wright won with 8,120 votes, or 51.7 percent, while Richards got 7,572 votes, or 48.3 percent. The 47th includes parts of central, western and northern Columbia as well as rural areas in Boone, Howard, Randolph and Cooper counties.
Wright, who created the Rollins Reading program and a Montessori preschool at Grant Elementary, pledged during the campaign to make public funding for education a priority. He sees that as the best prescription for creating a healthy economy.
At about 10:45 p.m. Wright gave his acceptance speech to a crowd of more than 75 at Shakespeare's South. Wright teamed up with Webber to host the watch party.
When the final results were released, Wright wasn't sure if he had won. "Is that it?" Wright asked his campaign staff, unsure if the election numbers were final.
"John Wright," shouted Dylan Gessner, policy adviser for the campaign, as the final numbers were released. The crowd rejoiced.
"This has been a humbling experience," Wright said. "We know what makes us special here in mid-Missouri. We value our investment in education, hard work and personal responsibility. We also know we're not a community of every man for himself, but a community of everyone in it together."
Richards, a history buff and language expert who owns an interpreting service, spent Tuesday night at the Republican watch party at the executive center headquarters.
Richards stood with a smile on his face as he spoke with Schaefer. He said he was receiving text messages from friends and constituents expressing their support.
"This is obviously not the result we wanted, but we gave my opponent a serious fight," Richards said. "I'm pretty happy about it. I was the underdog and had a fundraising disadvantage, but the race allowed me to meet great people.
"I'm not going anywhere but I'll be taking a break from politics for a while," Richards added. "In fact I think the whole country will be taking a break from politics."
Incumbent candidates in two other House districts that represent parts of Boone County were unopposed. Democrat Chris Kelly will represent the 45th District and Republican Caleb Jones the 50th District.
Missourian reporters Nassim Benchaabane and Arthur Cook-Bremer contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.