Voters in Missouri's 4th Congressional District ended the 34-year career of Democratic U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton on Tuesday, electing Republican Vicky Hartzler following a campaign in which she cast Skelton as out-of-touch with his largely conservative electorate.
Skelton, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, had been one of the top targets for Republicans as they sought to win back control of the House.
For years, he had managed to win re-election in a district that otherwise tilts toward Republicans by emphasizing his military expertise and social conservative views.
But this year, Hartzler successfully saddled Skelton with the unpopularility of President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress. She frequently repeated the assertion that Skelton had voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about 95 percent of the time. And she portrayed her congressional campaign as a "fight to take back our country."
"This district has been fed up and fired up and ready to stand up, and we did," Hartzler said during a victory speech at her watch party in rural Garden City.
Skelton called her moments earlier to concede, then told supporters in his hometown of Lexington that serving in Congress had been the "political high-life of my life" and "I enjoyed what I did."
Skelton won't be Missouri's only new member of Congress. In southwest Missouri, Republican Billy Long was elected to succeed Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican who won election to the Senate. In St. Louis, Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan narrowly defeated Republican challenger Ed Martin.
Skelton, 78, hired a larger campaign team than usual and set an early tone for this year's race. Because Hartzler drained most of her money in the Aug. 3 Republican primary, Skelton was able to air six weeks of unrebutted ads highlighting his support for military troops and veterans and questioning Hartzler's.
But Hartzler, 50, of Harrisonville, responded by claiming Skelton was twisting her voting record as a state legislator from 1995-2001 and pulled together her own coalition of veterans to express their disappointment in Skelton. House Republican leader John Boehner also pledged to support her for a seat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Lynnette Hunter, 61, of Sweet Springs, said she has voted for Skelton in just about each of his previous congressional elections. But the country's broader problems require a new voice for the 4th District, she said.
"This is the first time I haven't voted for him," she said. "We've got to start getting rid of what's in there now. We need a thorough House-cleaning."
Hartzler is a former home economics teacher who with her husband owns several farm equipment dealerships. In 2004, she served as spokeswoman of a coalition that successfully backed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. She also has published a how-to-book about political campaigning entitled "Running God's Way."
In her book, Hartzler stresses the importance of prayer in campaigns - for guidance, safety and favor when going door-to-door, for example. She also includes plenty of practical advice, such as how to wrap a rubber band around a clipboard to lessen the chance of losing the pencil.