Missouri state House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith has been tapped as the Republican nominee in the special election to replace former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and the district's Republican lean makes it likely he will win the June 4 special election.
On Saturday, Smith was nominated following a unanimous speech vote in the seventh round of voting, according to Eighth District committee chairman Eddy Justice. Smith bested nine other possible nominees, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former Missouri Republican Party director Lloyd Smith, state Sen. Jason Crowell and state Rep. Todd Richardson, who were all considered top-tier contenders.
"I think Jason Smith is a well-rounded conservative leader, he believes in the principles of the Republican party, he believes in working together with others without compromising (those principles). We are extremely well-off with Jason Smith as the nominee," Justice said in a phone interview on Saturday.
At 32 years old, Smith would one of the youngest members of Congress, should he win the special election. The district is heavily Republican and gave former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney nearly two-thirds percent of its presidential votes in 2012.
Smith's three-minute introductory speech at the nominating meeting on Saturday was very well-received by committee members, according to Justice. Smith is seen as a fresh face in the Missouri GOP, having served eight years in the state House. Republicans see him as someone who can bring together both establishment and tea party members.
Kinder, once thought the frontrunner, was hindered by concern among Republican committee members that Gov. Jay Nixon would choose a Democrat to replace him as lieutenant governor, should he resign to run for Congress. Kinder is only one of two statewide elected Republicans in Missouri, and party members were loathe to give up the seat to Democrats. Kinder was eliminated after the sixth round, with 22 votes, as was Crowell who brought in 21.
Initially, 13 Republican candidates indicated their interest in the race, but only ten were nominated on Saturday. Former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who lost the 2012 Republican senatorial primary to Rep. Todd Akin and had expressed interest in the seat, was among those who failed to join the field this weekend. Steelman has recently come under scrutiny after the Daily Caller, a Washington-based conservative website, reported that her Senate campaign is still nearly $1 million in debt.
Democrats, who were also expected to meet Saturday to pick a nominee, have moved their meeting to Feb. 16. The Libertarian Party will also field a candidate for the general election and was scheduled to select a nominee this afternoon.
Smith, the GOP nominee, could not be reached for comment.