By ERIN RAGAN
SEMO News Service
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Two Democrats considering a bid for a nomination to run in a special election for Missouri's 8th Congressional District are banking on conservative values, connections in the party and ties to the region's agricultural community for support.
Barry Aycock of Parma, Mo., owner and founder of AgXplore International, a Bootheel-based manufacturer and distributor of specialty agriculture products, on Friday said he is mulling a run for Congress and is in talks with members of a Democrat congressional committee who will select a candidate.
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, will leave Congress on Tuesday as she prepares to begin a new job as president and CEO of a national group that lobbies for public power districts and rural electric cooperatives. Since Emerson announced her resignation, a large field of Republicans has emerged as possible nominees to be selected by their party's congressional committee to run in a special election.
The Democrat committee's efforts in the race to replace Emerson have not yet been as obvious as that of the Republicans, who have already held two public candidate forums, but with the emergence of Aycock, along with state Rep. Linda Black, a roster of possible nominees is starting to take shape. Jack Rushin, a Poplar Bluff, Mo., chiropractor who challenged Emerson in the November general election, and Todd Mahn, a De Soto, Mo., businessman, also have expressed interest in a nomination from Democrats.
Aycock, a lifelong Democrat and major donor to the campaign of Gov. Jay Nixon, became involved in regional agribusiness when he began as a cotton consultant in the late 1980s. He has a master of science degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a doctoral degree from Southern Illinois University, owns 5,500 acres of farmland in the Bootheel and is the part-owner of Sandy Ridge Cotton Co., a gin in Malden, Mo. Aycock also serves on the state's Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline of Judges, to which he was appointed to by the governor, and was a member of Nixon's transition advisory team when the governor was elected in 2008.
As of Friday, Aycock said he only is considering seeking the nomination, but will make a decision on whether to do so in a few weeks.
"I'm actually 50/50 right now," Aycock said. "I do think a Democrat could slip in and win if there's three or four people in the race."
Acknowledging the 8th District has had an ever-increasing tendency to vote Republican during the tenure of Emerson and her late husband Bill Emerson before her, who also served in Congress, Aycock said a scenario in which several Republicans deciding to run as independent candidates in the case they don't receive their committee's nomination is where he sees a chance for Democrats.
His presence at a forum for Republican candidates in Cape Girardeau on Thursday night was noted by several GOP party members.
"I'm just kind of testing the water and seeing what the competition could be," Aycock said.
State Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, voiced support for Aycock on Friday.
"He would be a terrific representative because of the agriculture base," Hodges said. "Nobody would outsmart him. He contacts me all the time about different things. Sometimes I even feel like I could call him to ask him about what's going on."
Hodges also expressed support for fellow House member Linda Black, who has served since 2008 in the 117th District that covers St. Francois County.
Black, 42, of Bonne Terre, Mo., is married to the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Dr. Jon Hagler. Before being elected to the House, she served as a city and county official, and was a public-school teacher. Among Democrats in the statehouse, Black is a known conservative and serves as a chairwoman for pro-life and sportsmens' caucuses. She also is a member of the National Rifle Association and the Missouri Farm Bureau.
In an interview, Black confirmed she also has been talking with members of the Democrat committee and pointed to her votes in the House as a reason she should be given consideration for the nomination.
"I think, historically, with my conservative voting record, and the fact that the 8th District used to be a largely Democrat population, I think would make me a good fit for those people who are no longer looking to vote on party lines but rather take a look at the person," she said.
Black's interest in the nomination also sets up the only opportunity for a woman to succeed Emerson unless the Republicans choose to nominate Sarah Steelman, a former state senator and former state treasurer, who is the lone female candidate in a field of 13 Republicans.
Black said she closely identifies with the attention to constituent services for which Emerson was known -- and she views that service as a woman having a different perspective on how to serve the public.
"I think the job that I've done in my House district to serve my constituency is very similar. My citizens come first," Black said.