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Missouri Democrats choose Steve Hodges for congress

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (AP) -- Democratic Party leaders from southeast Missouri picked state Rep. Steve Hodges on Saturday to run in a special election to replace resigned U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in the GOP-leaning 8th District.

The Southeast Missourian reported that he earned 39 votes during his party's meeting in Poplar Bluff. De Soto funeral home director Todd Mahn got 27 votes, and former Blodgett mayor Markel Fitchpatrick earned only two votes.

Hodges, 64, of East Prairie, is a former grocery store owner and high school sports referee who spent a dozen years on a local school board and first won election to the Missouri House in 2006. Only after other likely candidates bowed out did he belatedly enter the race Wednesday night to run in a June 4 special election against Republican state Rep. Jason Smith, who was nominated by his party last weekend.

In accepting the nomination, Hodges recalled his son Andrew's valedictorian address at West Point. "He said opportunities sometimes only come along once in your life," Hodges said. "And he said it's your choice to decide whether to accept that opportunity or let it pass. I thought about it a great deal for several days this week and I thought I think God is presenting this as an opportunity for me. So I need to decide whether this is something I should take advantage of or let pass by because it's not going to happen again."

Missouri's 8th District stretches across 30 counties, from the outer suburbs of St. Louis south to the agricultural-base of the Missouri Bootheel and west to the rolling Ozark hills. The district's residents are the poorest and least educated in Missouri, with a median household income of less than $36,000 and more than 85 percent lacking bachelor's degrees. For 32 years, much of the area had been represented by either Bill Emerson or Jo Ann Emerson, who succeeded her husband after he died in 1996. Jo Ann Emerson resigned Jan. 22 to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Although of opposite political parties, Hodges praised the Emersons and vowed to continue their legacies of supporting labor and agriculture. He also stressed the need to balance the budget.

Hodges described Smith, the Republican nominee, as a friend and said he hoped to conduct the campaign as friends. "That was the way I was reared," he said. "But in politics as Gov. (Jay) Nixon has said, `There is no second place.' There are only winners and losers, and I hope to give you a winner."

Smith, an attorney, farmer and real estate partner, won a special election to the Missouri House of Representatives in November 2005. Because of term limits, Smith, 32, is now one of the most senior members of the chamber. After serving as majority party whip, his colleagues elected him in January as House speaker pro tem - the No. 2 ranking position.

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