JEFFERSON CITY — Republican state Rep. Jason Smith won a special election Tuesday for a vacant congressional seat in southeast Missouri that had been held by the same political family for the past 32 years.
Smith defeated Democratic state Rep. Steve Hodges in the reliably Republican 8th Congressional District to succeed Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican who resigned in January to lead the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Smith's victory marked a generational, geographical and — to a lesser extent — philosophical shift in the representation of one of Missouri's largest, poorest and most rural congressional districts. Smith, who turns 33 later this month, will be one of the youngest members of Congress. He is taking over a seat first won by Emerson's late husband, Bill Emerson, in November 1980 — just a few months after Smith was born.
Unlike the Emersons, who were from the district's largest city of Cape Girardeau along the Mississippi River, Smith comes from a rural area near Salem in south-central Missouri's rolling hills.
And although both are Republicans, Smith has a more conservative bent than Jo Ann Emerson, who developed a reputation as a moderate.
Jo Ann Emerson first won a special election for Congress in 1996 after Bill Emerson died of lung cancer. She announced her resignation last December — just one month after cruising to re-election — and officially stepped down Jan. 22.
As a Republican, Smith immediately became the favorite to succeed her after an 84-person regional GOP committee nominated him from among 10 candidates during a multiple-round voting process in early February. He appealed to party insiders by promising a "fresh approach" and denouncing "reckless spending in Washington."
During his campaign against Hodges, Smith called for the repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law and pledged to fight regulations affecting small businesses. He touted endorsements from Missouri Right to Life, the National Rifle Association and various agricultural groups while describing himself as a "common-sense conservative."
Smith served the past seven years in the state House, where he rose to become the No. 2-ranking official in a chamber where term limits generally cap people at eight years of service. He owns a family livestock farm, is an attorney and also is a partner in a real estate business.