Republican Jason Smith has easily won the special election to replace retired Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R).

With 70 percent of precincts reporting, The Associated Press called the race in favor of Smith, who took 69 percent of the vote to Democrat Steve Hodges's 28 percent.

Smith, the Missouri Speaker Pro Tem, has long been favored to win in the heavily Republican district. Much of the intrigue in the special election to replace Emerson, who resigned in January to take a private sector job, surrounded the initial nominating process.

The 8th District Republican Committee, comprised of 80 members, chose the GOP nominee for the seat, and 13 candidates initially expressed interest.

After six rounds of voting, Smith won the nomination with 55 votes.

Smith represents a marked departure from Emerson's moderate chops. During his run, he received endorsements from conservative groups the Tea Party Express and the National Rifle Association, as well as prominent conservatives like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) congratulated Smith on his win in a statement.

"The voters in Southeast Missouri spoke loud and clear today that they wanted a leader with a proven record of fighting for pro-growth, commonsense free market principles. Jason Smith is a strong and passionate member of his community who will represent the people of his district well in Washington," he said.