The eventual Republican candidate is expected to have a strong advantage over the eventual Democratic candidate in the heavily Republican district, which takes in a wide swath of southern Missouri.
The candidates who showed up for the event at Salem City Hall were instructed to put their cellphones on a table and leave the auditorium so they couldn’t be informed of the questions asked of the candidates as they came back in one by one.
The candidates’ views on the issues — guns, abortion, the federal deficit, economic development — were virtually identical, tracking with the conservative wing of the GOP. But there was some nuance in what they chose to focus on.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, widely considered one of the frontrunners in the race, introduced himself to the crowd of about 200 as “the only candidate in this race who can say he or she has carried 29 of the 30 counties” in the 8th District.
“I am 6-0 in election campaigns. I have never lost,” noted Kinder.
Another of the frontrunners, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who lost last year’s Senate primary to GOP nominee Todd Akin, tried to turn that experience to her advantage. “I have been tested in battle, and I have a lot of battle scars,” she said, “and I think that’s the kind of person you need up there.”
On fiscal issues, the candidates shared opposition to the agreement between Congress and President Barack Obama to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts. The universal view was that the deal should have included deeper spending cuts, a point on which they attempted to outdo each other.
“Stop spending, stop spending, stop spending!” said state Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.
The GOP nominee will ultimately be chosen by the 86 members of the 8th District Congressional Republican Committee after Emerson officially resigns.
Other candidates vying for the ballot spot include:
• State Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, the Missouri House speaker pro tem.
• Lloyd Smith of East Prairie, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party and Emerson’s former chief of staff.
• Former U.S. Rep. Wendell Bailey, R-Willow Springs, who also is a former state treasurer.
• State Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla.
• Former State Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington
• Former state Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson
• State Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff
• Former state Rep. Clint Tracy, R-Cape Girardeau
• Pedro Sotelo of Kansas City
• Attorney John Tyrrell of Mountain Grove
• State Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau