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Missouri Republican will leave Congress

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 7:52 p.m.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Less than a month after cruising to a new term in Washington, Republican Jo Ann Emerson announced on Monday she is leaving her southeastern Missouri congressional district to become the leader of an organization for rural electric cooperatives.

Emerson said she plans to step down from Congress in February just after her next term begins and will be the president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. She is expected to assume her new post on March 1 at the organization, which represents more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives.

“I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service. To the contrary, I see a new way to serve,” Emerson said. “I did not go seeking this opportunity, but I am excited about the new challenge it offers to find ways to promote strong rural policy.”

Emerson, 62, won office in 1996, replacing her husband, longtime Republican Congressman Bill Emerson, after he died of lung cancer in June 1996. She ran simultaneous campaigns as a Republican in the special election to finish her husband's term and as an independent in the general election for a new term. She has won re-election since then, and an Emerson has represented the district since 1981.

Several Missouri Republicans expressed interest in possibly seeking to succeed her. A special election date will be set by the governor after Emerson steps down, and congressional party committees will select the candidates for that contest.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and state lawmaker Kevin Engler said Monday they have interest in the seat.

Smith worked 28 years for Jo Ann or Bill Emerson, serving as chief of staff for both. He said he has received numerous messages encouraging him to seek the nomination.

“I am humbled by this unsolicited support and will carefully consider this opportunity to continue serving the people of the 8th District,” he said.

Steelman was elected treasurer in 2004. She lost this summer in a competitive GOP primary for the U.S. Senate and in the 2008 primary for governor.

Engler of Farmington served in the Missouri House and later was the majority leader in the state Senate.

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