Jo Ann Emerson won the election to succeed her late husband, Bill Emerson, in Congress in 1996, defeating Democrat Emily Firebaugh with 50 percent of the vote. Firebaugh was backed by House Minority Leader Dick Gepahrdt and out-spent Emerson, but she won only 37 percent of the vote. In the simultaneous special election to finish the rest of her husband's term, Emerson won 63 percent of the vote.
She became the first woman to be elected to Congress in Missouri's 8th District and the first Republican woman elected to Congress in Missouri.
She was re-elected in 1998, defeating Democrat Tony Heckemeyer with 63 percent of the vote.
In 2000, she defeated Democrat Bob Camp with 69 percent of the vote.
She defeated Democrat Gene Curtis in 2002, winning re-election with 72 percent of the vote.
Emerson considered challenging Missouri Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan in 2002 but decided against it, saying she would rather spend time with her husband and family.