Mr. Smith is expected to head to Washington from Missouri’s 8th District on Tuesday.
Republican state Rep. Jason Smith is the overwhelming favorite to succeed former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in a little-noticed special election in the expansive southeastern rural Missouri district. Emerson resigned earlier this year to take a job as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Smith faces fellow Democratic state Rep. Steve Hodges on the ballot, along with two other minor party candidates. But the overwhelming GOP tilt of the conservative district (Mitt Romney won the district by 34 points) makes him essentially a lock for Tuesday’s special election.
Unlike last month’s race in South Carolina’s 1st District, which featured disgraced former Gov. Mark Sanford making his political comeback over comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister, this sleepy, heavily partisan race attracted essentially zero national attention.
Conservative heavyweights and onetime presidential contenders have weighed in for Smith, though, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum. Smith has also more than doubled Hodges in fundraising.
If he wins, Smith, only 32, would be one of the youngest members of Congress–but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t paid his political dues. Smith has served in the state House since winning a special election in 2005, when he was only 25 years old. He worked his way up through GOP leadership, serving as majority whip and Speaker Pro Tem.
According to his campaign biography, Smith seems to have always been an overachiever. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in just three years with two degrees, and later graduated from law school in Oklahoma, before returning to the Show Me State to practice law and run his family’s farm.
While a victory on Tuesday won’t be an upset, Smith did beat back challenges from several veteran state lawmakers to win the nod in from party leaders February. Smith endured six rounds of voting, eventually prevailing over Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former Missouri GOP Executive Director Lloyd Smith, and former state legislator Jason Crowell, who had been seen as frontrunners going into the nomination process.
To Missouri Republicans though, Smith winning was hardly a shock: they say the young lawmaker simply outworked his opponents.
“He earned the nomination by sitting in their homes and living rooms and talking about his conservative values,” said one veteran Missouri Republican strategist. “That’s just kind of the way he is. He’s not a real retail campaigner, he’s a house-to-house campaigner.”
And, in a way, his rise almost does seem Capra-esque.
“It kind of is like ‘Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,’” said the GOP strategist. “He’s a citizen legislator.”