No, I hadn’t been paying much attention either, but there was a special election today in Missouri’s 8th congressional district to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Jo Ann Emerson. Republican state legislator Jason Smith beat Democrat Steve Hodges by a 67%-27% margin.
Last November Mitt Romney carried the district by a 66%-32% margin, and this result suggests that the balance of opinion hasn’t changed significantly. It’s also consistent with the result of the special election in South Carolina 1, in which former Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, despite his Argentinian fling, beat Democrat Stephanie Colbert Busch by a 54%-45% margin, just slightly less than Mitt Romney’s 58%-40% margin in the district.
Sanford trailed Romney’s numbers in Charleston and Beaufort counties, which suggests that his personal weakness cost him some votes among affluent Republicans, but maintained Republican strength in the more exurban areas, which don’t have the kind of upscale neighborhoods you find in Charleston and Hilton Head.
The Missouri 8th district occupies the southeast quadrant of the state and is thoroughly non-metropolitan. It includes Rush Limbaugh’s home town of Cape Girardeau, which has long leaned Republican, but most of the area is historically Democratic. Jo Ann Emerson’s husband, Bill Emerson, captured the district for Republicans in 1980, when he won 55%-45% over veteran Democrat Bill Burlison, who had been winning by margins around 2-1. Bill Emerson died in June 1996, and Jo Ann was elected that November.
This special election was obviously not seriously contested, and my bottom line is that the basic partisan balance we saw in November 2012 is still in place: Republicans haven’t been hurt significantly by the negative impression voters have of “congressional Republicans” and haven’t been helped significantly by the breaking Obama administration scandals.