Tea Party vs. Establishment for Open Missouri House Seat

by John Fund

Missouri Republican officials will have a chance to pick between tea party and establishment factions to select a new congressman from the “Boot Heel” district in the state’s southeast corner. Republican incumbent Jo Ann Emerson, who was first elected in 1996 to replace her late husband, has announced she is retiring in February to take a job as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

It’s fitting that Emerson, a senior member of the budget “favor factory” called the House Appropriations Committee, is joining a trade association primarily interested in federal and state subsidies. In her congressional career, she often shied away from stringent budget-cutting measures and privately deplored bans on earmarks. In 2011, the National Journal found that she was only the 200th most conservative member of the House. Since almost no House Democrats have anything approaching a conservative voting record, that effectively put her in the bottom fifth of House Republicans when it came to conservative positions.

Since no party primaries will be held before the special election next spring, her replacement will effectively be named by the eight district’s Republican party committee, which has 80 members. The district is overwhelmingly Republican. Both John McCain and Mitt Romney carried it by over 20 percentage points.

Given that whoever wins the GOP nomination will become the next congressman, the competition among competing party factions will be fierce. Moderates will favor one of several state legislators or Lloyd Smith, the GOP state executive director and a former chief of staff for Representative Emerson.

Many tea-party advocates will plump for Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who just became the only Republican to win statewide office this month. Tarnished by a scandal involving expense reports and approaches the bachelor Kinder made to a former exotic dancer, he nonetheless was able to win by four points. Kinder hails from Cape Girardeau, the hometown of Rush Limbaugh, whose family Kinder is close to.

Some tea-party Republicans along with those who worry about the shrinking band of GOP women in the House will tout former Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who won 29 percent of the vote in last August’s three-way U.S. Senate primary won by the ill-fated Todd Akin. She was aided by winning a late endorsement from Sarah Palin.

In trying to reconcile competing wings of the Republican party in the aftermath of this November’s election defeat, Missouri will be an interesting proving ground as to which has the upper hand. 

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