In his first speech after the first major loss of his political career, U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton made no bones about it: "I can't deny that I wish the outcome of my particular election had turned out differently."
And he said his defeat - and losses by another 59 House Democrats and some in the U.S. Senate, as well - were the result of a "political tsunami ... there was unhappiness across the nation, not just in this area."
Skelton came to Jefferson City on Thursday as he has every Veterans Day for the past 23 years, to be the keynote speaker for the annual Lincoln University ROTC Veterans Day Breakfast, honoring those Mid-Missourians who have served and sacrificed for their country.
But for the first time, the Lexington Democrat came in defeat, having lost his re-election bid for an 18th two-year term in Congress to Republican Vicky Hartzler, by just more than 12,000 votes out of more than 225,000 cast.
He said the loss surprised him and others.
"My favorable ratings remained very high," Skelton explained. "My polling was very positive, and I fully expected to win."
He said President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among the well-wishers who called him last Wednesday, after the election results were known.
"A lot of my colleagues, God love them, called," he said, "and a lot of good friends."
And he's gotten a "stack" of letters from people "thanking me for my service."
Skelton said he's not ready to retire.
"I would like to do something positive for our country," he said. "I think that I have a lot to offer, wherever it is.
"I can't pre-judge where it goes ... I'm just trying to reconstruct my thoughts and see where I can be of some help."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who started in that job under President George W. Bush and accepted Obama's invitation almost two years ago to stay on-the-job under the new administration, has said he plans to retire soon.
Skelton said the White House has not asked him if he'd be willing to succeed Gates.
"I would be open to doing a lot of good things for the country," he told reporters Thursday, adding: "I think there's a lot of hard work left in me - I know there is. And I feel I have a fair amount of understanding of things military."
He noted in his speech, and again to reporters later, that 10 of the more than 60 ousted Democratic House incumbents had been members of the Armed Services Committee that he's chaired for the past four years - and that all 10 generally were "moderate to conservative" lawmakers from the Midwest and South.
"The absence of the Armed Services Committee members will mean a great deal of military and legislative knowledge - and how they fit together - will be gone," he told reporters. "With seniority comes more than just being able to ask questions first.
"With seniority comes a great deal of knowledge (and) I think the lack of deep knowledge, built over a period of years ... may be a real detriment to our committee."
Skelton will leave Congress at the end of the year with 34 years in the U.S. House - the second-longest service by a Missourian (Clarence Cannon holds the state record).
But, while he wishes he'd won instead of losing last week, the veteran lawmaker noted his experience proves the U.S. elections system really works.
"Because generations of Americans have protected our country's freedoms," Skelton told the LU Breakfast audience, "millions of citizens had the opportunity to vote and successfully participated in peaceful, democratic elections on November 2. ...
"The poll results in Missouri and throughout America are a living demonstration of the power of democracy. ...
"Think about how the United States has conducted elections and thrived as a representative democracy for over 200 years - it is a marvel."