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On the trail: 8th District GOP race could tip over rows of political dominoes

In Elections

1:22 am on Mon, 01.28.13

It may be ancient history by now, but it wasn’t too long ago that the Missouri political world was bracing for a high-level game of musical chairs.

The Republican field for the 8th Congressional District seat is big. And that means there's plenty of potential for additional vacancies on various levels of government.
Jo Mannies I St. Louis Beacon
The GOP field for the 8th congressional district seat is big -- with plenty of potential for more vacancies at various levels of government.

That’s because then-U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, had made what turned out to be a career-ending gaffe about rape and pregnancy. GOP political figures from across the country implored Akin to step aside, prompting speculation about potential replacements and their political consequences.

Akin, of course, ended up losing to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill by a landslide. But that situation previewed the current Republican scramble for the U.S. 8th congressional district nomination, made possible by former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson’s resignation.

The contest for the southeast Missouri-based seat has lured statewide officials, state reps and senators, county officers, out-of-office luminaries and everyday people into the fray. The 8th Congressional District Republican Committee will select the GOP nominee in February.

While most attention – and legislative maneuvering – is focused what would happen if Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder got the nod, there are certainly consequences if other GOP contenders are successful in their pursuits.

So while the following scenarios are completely hypothetical, here are some political dominoes that may fall if various Republican candidates are elected to Congress on June 4:

What if somebody who is not in office wins?

Jason Crowell
Jason Crowell
Sarah Steelman
Sarah Steelman

Several contenders  – including former state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, and former Missouri Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith –  are not current office holders. Victory by any of them would produce the least amount of electoral blowback in the near term.

In fact, Crowell made that point earlier this month in Cape Girardeau. In his closing remarks, the former legislator noted that he “won’t cause another special election or selection if I’m chosen.”

That may be a subtle jab at Kinder, with whom Crowell has had a frosty relationship over the years.

Upside: A Republican contender such as Crowell, Smith or Steelman wouldn’t have to be replaced through a special election or a gubernatorial appointment. 

Downside: A Crowell or Steelman victory could spark a competitive primary in 2014 since both have chafed for years against the GOP grain. It remains to be seen if somebody like Smith – a former Emerson staffer who’s never won elective office – would be able to scare off potential competition down the road.

What if Wendell Bailey wins? 

Wendell Bailey
Wendell Bailey

Bailey’s bid is arguably the most creative. The Willow Springs native – who served as a state lawmaker, a one-term congressman and a two-term state treasurer – promised that he would serve only as a placeholder and not run for a full term in 2014.

Bailey told the Beacon that his candidacy was a matter of fairness, adding that the only way members of 8th District Committee "can ensure that these candidates get a level playing field is to select Wendell Bailey, who will not be a candidate for re-election.”

Upside: A Bailey victory wouldn’t cause any further vacancies until after 2014, providing some stability within statewide, legislative and county offices for the time being.

Downside: Since Bailey would be vacating the 8th congressional sistrict seat after 2014, it would likely compel many of candidates currently seeking the nomination to run in a Republican primary. That could spark additional special elections, especially if the winner is midway through a term.

What if County Commissioner Tracy wins?

Clint Tracy
Clint Tracy

Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy – an Iraq War veteran and former member of the Missouri House – is arguably the most prominent local official seeking the 8th District nod. Cape Girardeau associate circuit judge Scott Lipke – another former state House member – is also vying for the nomination but can’t actively campaign because of judicial restrictions.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., started in a county position – Greene County clerk – before slowly climbing the political ladder to the U.S. Senate. So a win for Tracy wouldn’t be without precedent.

But Tracy's departure would lead to Gov. Jay Nixon naming his replacement, something that wouldn’t occur if somebody who’s out of office or in the state legislature prevailed.

Upside: Tracy leads an overwhelmingly Republican county, so any Democratic replacement that Nixon selects may not get re-elected. In fact, Nixon has often appointed Republicans – including former state Reps. Dennis Wood, R-Kimberling City, and Ray Weter, R-Nixa – to fill county commission vacancies in areas that lean toward the GOP.

Downside: It’s entirely possible that Nixon could lure a Republican state House member to accept an appointment to replace Tracy, which would in turn reduce the GOP majority in the House. Nixon could schedule a special election to fill that seat after the General Assembly’s veto session, which could complicate the GOP's ability to override legislation.

Potential replacements: If Nixon looked to the legislature to replace Tracy, he could tap state Reps. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, or Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson. He could also look to local elected officials in Cape Girardeau County or members of the area's business community.

What if a state senator wins?

Dan Brown
Dan Brown
Wayne Wallingford
Wayne Wallingford

Both state Sens. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, and Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, want to springboard from the state Senate to the U.S. House. That’s not out of the ordinary, as both U.S. Reps. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, and Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, served in the Missouri Senate before going to Washington.

Wallingford, though, is taking the unusual – but not unprecedented – step of running for Congress just weeks after being sworn in to the state Senate for the first time. (Napoleon Harris – a former NFL player who won a seat in the Illinois Senate as a Democrat last year – is attempting a similar maneuver in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district.)

With longer terms and the greater leverage to influence legislation, seats in the Missouri Senate are often highly sought. So it wouldn't be surprising if current and former House Republicans scrambled to succeed either lawmaker.

Upside: Both Brown and Wallingford reside in fairly staunch Republican districts, which could ensure that their successor would be a member of their party.

Downside: Brown or Wallingford’s election would temporarily reduce the GOP majority in the Missouri Senate to 23, the exact amount to override a veto. The departure of either senator could prompt sitting House members to try and fill out the rest of either lawmaker’s terms. Assuming the special election for either seat would be at the end of 2013, that could leave Missouri House Republican membership at exactly the level needed to override a veto throughout 2014.

Potential replacements for Wallingford: In addition to Swan and Lichtenegger, state Reps. Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill, also resides in Wallingford’s district. Former Rep. Ellen Brandom – a Sikeston Republican who lost to Wallingford last year – could try again for the GOP nod.

Potential replacements for Brown: House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, resides in Brown’s district. Other hypothetical replacements include former state Rep. David Day, R-Dixon, Rep. Steve Lynch, R-Waynesville, or Rep. Keith Fredrick, R-Rolla.

What if a state rep wins?

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
Todd Richardson
Todd Richardson

As two of the more youthful aspirants for the 8th District seat, state Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, and House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, have a decidedly different appeal to the 8th District committee than more seasoned contenders.

Assuming that the district remains a Republican stronghold, either Richardson or Smith could remain in office for a long time. That could help the 8th District because House members with lengthier tenures tend to have more clout.

Neither Richardson nor Smith faced Democratic opponents in 2012, a sign that either of their districts would remain in GOP hands.

Upside: Either Richardson or Smith would almost certainly be replaced in the Missouri House by a Republican.

Downside: It’s highly possible that Nixon wouldn’t call a special election for the seat until after the General Assembly’s veto session, making it more difficult for the GOP to override the governor’s veto.

Potential replacements for Richardson or Smith: This is typically hard to gauge, as many state reps come from the private sector. In the case of Richardson, some Republicans who ran for a similar seat in 2010 – such as Republican activist Hardy Billington – may give it another shot.

Smith's victory would also prompt an internal scramble to elect a new House speaker pro tem, the second-highest leadership position in the state House.

What if Kinder wins?

Peter Kinder
Peter Kinder

Kinder overcame steep obstacles last year to become the first lieutenant governor to win a third term since Democrat Frank G. Harris. But Kinder may not finish his term if he’s successful in pursuing the 8th congressional district seat.

That possibility sparked Jason Smith’s legislation to change how statewide vacancies are filled. If that bill passes, Nixon would replace Kinder with a placeholder, most likely a Democrat, who couldn't run in a 2014 special election.

If that bill doesn’t pass, Nixon would likely appoint a replacement, a move that could spark a lawsuit.

Upside: This completely depends on what the law is after the June 4 election if Kinder gets elected. If Smith’s bill becomes law in the next couple of months with an immediate effective date, then Nixon would be limited in whom he appoints. And if it doesn’t pass, or is vetoed, it’s possible that a court may rule against Nixon’s power to appoint Kinder's replacement.

Downside: Even under Smith’s bill, it’s almost a certainty that Nixon would appoint a Democrat to replace Kinder. That could have ramifications for the 2014 legislative session since a Democratic lieutenant governor may be more aggressive in presiding over the Missouri Senate.

And it’s also possible that a strong Democratic candidate could prevail in a special election, which would mean Republicans would hold only one statewide office before the 2016 election.

Potential replacements: The number of possibilities is endless. So perhaps it's best to leave that topic alone -- for now.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

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