We continue our tipsheet series by looking at who might run to replace Congressman Jason Smith if he decided to get into the U.S. Senate race. Redistricting will have a lot to say about who takes on this seat.
The 8th district was the primary hangup in redistricting last time. With more than half of the Republican delegation considering running for U.S. Senate, it could be one of many key districts this time around. Congresswoman Ann Wagner has made no secret she would be glad to take Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer and Smith’s Jefferson County voters which would likely push the 8th father west. You won’t have to ask Pulaski County twice to be in the 8th, especially if Fort Leonard Wood could be represented by the House Budget chairman.
However, there is a contingent that wants all of Jefferson County in the 8th. Now they might not like what they get because while Jefferson County to JeffCo folks is Jefferson County, to the rest of the state it’s just St. Louis South. You can imagine asking a Madison County Republican to vote for a St. Louis congressman.
The most important factor here will be what each candidate can raise after they announce. None of the fundraising they’ve done for their state offices will matter. Everyone is starting at $0 in their federal accounts, and it’s unlikely anyone will file a federal committee until Smith announces. Who can get $200,000 and jump-start their campaign the quickest?
Former House Speaker TODD RICHARDSON
The most honorable man to ever hold the gavel as Speaker of the House, Todd Richardson sought the seat the last time it opened, and many will speculate that he will again.
He built up a lot of political goodwill in the state while serving in the lower chamber, becoming pretty much everyone’s favorite Speaker. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who served with Richardson who has anything bad to say about him.
After he left the House, Richardson successfully steered MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid system. Recently, though, he’s taken a leave of absence so he can take a break from making the drive from Poplar Bluff to Jefferson City all the time.
Bottom line: Does he want to do it? He would be giving up a great job, and keep in mind, he could have been state auditor if he just filed and could have been attorney general if he would have just accepted it. He doesn’t think like everyone else and may just sit this out too.
X-Factor: If he returns from his break and realizes he wants it.
State Senator JUSTIN BROWN
Sen. Justin Brown has perhaps the best thing going for him you can have in a rural Missouri primary: geography. The questions you’ll get asked about a candidate in southeast Missouri isn’t how they voted on an issue — everyone is pro-life and pro-gun — but where are you from and where is your kin from?
If you take the areas in the district that are likely to vote for a Rolla farmer over anyone else, which would probably be something like Phelps, Dent, Reynolds, Shannon, Oregon, Texas, Wright, Douglas, Ozark, Howell, and Crawford in 2018, they made up about 35 percent of the primary vote.
If Sen. Karla Eslinger or anyone else from the western side of the district stays out, he could have a perfect storm — especially if the farther west the district creeps in redistricting.
He is a farmer, which will work great in the district, with a great look and is someone with very few enemies. He does, however, have to choose whether to run for Congress and give up his seat as he is up for re-election to his Senate seat this cycle. If he runs as the only candidate from the west, he is a top contender and maybe the favorite.
Bottom line: If redistricting keeps the district relatively the same and no one like Sen. Karla Eslinger runs from the west, it could be too good of an opportunity to pass up.
X-Factor: Does redistricting really take the 8th into St. Louis as Speaker Rob Vescovo has mentioned — which would take away some of his western advantage, and hell maybe even Phelps itself out of the 8th?
State Senator HOLLY REHDER
Sen. Holly Rehder is all but guaranteed to run if Smith gets into the Senate race. She is probably the best all-around politician in the field and just recently won a tough state Senate race where she picked up votes outside of her geographical base.
She has a solid voting record, has shown the ability to raise money, and has a tremendous story. It’s an off year for her, so she could run and still keep her state Senate seat if she loses. She will have a big advantage in that if Smith announces for Senate she will just be in and not have to dither.
Her state Senate district took up around 23 percent of the existing 8th district primary vote in 2018. However, she has Cape Girardeau County in her state Senate district which is 11 percent of the 8th district vote by itself. Can she convince Cape County Republicans that she is one of them? If she can then she is a top contender and has her own claim to the favorite in the race.
She also has a secret weapon in her husband, Ray, who can raise a hell of a lot of money for the campaign and knows everyone in the area. He’s serving as chair of the 8th, and his connections in Southeast Missouri run deep. Expect Rehder to get in early and draw a lot of support.
Bottom line: If Smith is in, Rehder is in. Expect an announcement from her quickly after we get one from Smith.
X-Factor: She convinced more than 40 percent of Cape Countians to vote for her over a Cape County native — an amazing, outstanding, and remarkable number. If she convinces them that they are voting for one of their own for Congress and they don’t run anyone else, then she is the one to beat.
State Senator JASON BEAN
Sen. Jason Bean is someone who is in mid-term and has every incentive to get into this race — and the more crowded the field the better his chances are.
His family is deeply rooted in Southeast Missouri Republican politics. His brother, Barry, has connections all around the district from his work with Farm Bureau, and Bean could stroke the check that vaults him into the top contender bracket.
His Senate district is now totally ruby red Republican primary voters and made up around 21 percent of the primary vote in 2018. However, he has shown an ability to connect with folks outside of this Bootheel farming base. For instance, his webbed feet got 52 percent of the vote in the hills of Shannon County against three candidates from the hills in Butler County.
Like everyone in this race, his odds shift with redistricting and who all runs. First, it helps his campaign if Todd Richardson doesn’t run. Ideally, if Sen. Holly Rehder didn’t run, that would help him but she is likely in regardless. After that, the more the merrier for the tallest man in the field, and every candidate that gets in be them from West Plains, Cape or Farmington increases his odds.
Bottom line: There’s little downside for Bean if he decided to run, but his odds depend on who files and what the district looks like.
X-Factor: He is on track to be Senate President Pro Tem — would a congressional race loss affect that?
Others who haven’t been mentioned as much but would be serious contenders:
Former Cape Girardeau Mayor JAY KNUDTSON
Jay Knudtson is the former mayor of Cape Girardeau. He has long talked about running for something higher, and this might be it. He would need a lot of candidates to be in for his odds to peak, and his candidacy would be harmful to Sen. Holly Rehder. But the last time the 8th was an open seat was before he was born.
Sen. KARLA ESLINGER
Sen. Karla Eslinger is just an outstanding senator. She hasn’t expressed an interest in running, but in a crowded field, her part of the district has lots of votes.
Rep. HANNAH KELLY
Rep. Hannah Kelly has her path to the Senate crowded by Sen. Karla Eslinger and could make a run for Congress herself.
Rep. TRAVIS SMITH
Rep. Travis Smith is a newcomer to the Missouri Legislature in his first term in the House, but he’s someone who is well-liked in the community and could self-fund a bid for Congress if he wanted to. More than likely, though, he’s biding his time. He for sure wants to run one day but will more than likely spend some time cutting his teeth in the statehouse before he jumps onto the national stage.
Attorney DERRICK GOOD
Derrick Good has been building support and making phone calls. He could get edged out by redistricting — his house is on the very edge of the southside — and redistricting could expand northeast, into Jefferson County. Not a front runner out of the gate but don’t sleep on a JeffCo candidate jumping into the 8th as it exists now, and more likely so if the district moves north.
Former State Sen. KEVIN ENGLER
He hasn’t mentioned running, but Kevin Engler would be my personal pick to make the race so much more fun, and the debate so much more meaningful.