Kentucky Republicans think they’ve waited long enough – it has been 90 years since they controlled the state House of Representatives – and they want to “flip the House in 2014.”
That’s where the attention will be in state races this year. Democrats have virtually no shot at reversing Republican control of the state Senate, though it is mathematically possible.
HOUSE: Democrats currently hold a 54-46 edge in the state House and redistricting this year eliminated two districts previously held by Republicans.
Republicans are challenging incumbent House Democrats in 30 districts while Democrats are challenging 20 Republican incumbents, so it won’t be a cakewalk if Republicans seize control.
“It’s a tough challenge. I understand that,” said House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, “But I certainly think it’s within our sights. We’re in a better position this year than at any time anyone can remember.”
Republicans pin part of their hopes on the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama, but Obama isn’t on this year’s ballot. But Republicans think they’ll do well with Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell heading the ticket as he runs for re-election.
Hoover’s counterpart, Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, sees it differently. He thinks the popularity of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear will boost his candidates and thinks McConnell will be a hindrance to Hoover’s.
“Well, (Beshear) is awfully popular in the state and people like him,” Stumbo said. “I would expect (Democratic) candidates would want to be seen with him. And McConnell is going to be a real drag for a lot of their candidates.”
Stumbo went so far to predict Democrats will gain seats, perhaps as many as seven.
In all, there are 186 candidates for the 100 seats, but that doesn’t account for a lot of uncontested seats. There will be 24 primary elections in 23 districts – 13 Republican and 11 Democratic. As always, the western part of the state will be a key battleground. Once known as the “Gibraltar of the Democracy,” the region has trended Republican for years.
Democrats will challenge incumbent Republicans Richard Heath, Lynn Bechler and Kenny Imes out west, but Republicans will pose challenges to Democratic incumbents Gerald Watkins, Will Coursey and David Watkins as well. Republican Suzanne Miles of Owensboro, who won a December special election in the 7th District, will also see a Democratic challenger, John Warren. Both are from Owensboro.
In southern Kentucky, Republican newspaper publisher Jeff Jobe of Glasgow will challenge incumbent Democrat Johnny Bell, an attorney, also from Glasgow.
Former Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney and Democrat Dave Stengel is challenging Republican Kevin Bratcher in Louisville, but Jefferson County Democrats Tom Burch, Steve Riggs, Mary Lou Marzian, Jim Wayne, Dennis Horlander, Reggie Meeks, Darryl Owens and Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark have Republican opponents. But those districts are generally considered Democratic territory.
Republican incumbent Ken Upchurch of Monticello faces a Republican primary challenge from Jessica Burke of Stearns. Republican Donna Mayfield of Winchester is opposed by Democratic challenger Bonnie Hummell, also of Winchester.
Two Richmond Republicans – Bonnie Linnemeir and Wesley Morgan, who owns a liquor warehouse business – will square off to see who will challenge incumbent Democrat Rita Smart of Richmond in the general election.
Williamsburg Republican Regina Bunch faces a primary challenge from Eskridge Andy Skelton, also of Williamsburg. Bunch was elected to succeed her husband, Dwayne Bunch, after his death.
In the 89th District, Republican incumbent Marie Rader of McKee faces two Republican challengers in the primary: Michael Bryant of London and Gerardo Serrano of Tyner. Awaiting the winner in the fall is Joey Jayson Taylor II of Bernstadt. In the 91st, incumbent Republican Gary “Toby” Herald of Beattyville will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Cluster Howard of Jackson and Arch Johnson of Booneville.
Republican incumbent Jill York of Grayson will also face off against the winner of a Democratic primary between Barry Webb of Webbville and Derrick Willis of Grayson. Meanwhile, Transportation Committee Chairman Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, faces a primary challenge from Sid Allen of Campton. Three Republicans filed for the seat: Dewie Ison and Wesley Scott Wells, both of West Liberty, and Bobby McCool of Van Lear.
Some unopposed candidates: Republican Jonathan Shell of Lancaster; Hoover; Stumbo; Tommy Turner, R-Somerset; Jim Stewart, R-Flat Lick; Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro; Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore; Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; and Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland.
SENATE: Republicans hold a 23-14-1 edge in the Senate, but the independent, Bob Leeper of Paducah, isn’t running for re-election. Democrats fielded challengers to three Republican incumbents and three open seats previously held by Republicans or Leeper. If they swept all races and held all their present seats, Democrats could hold a majority with 20 seats, but no one thinks that’s going to happen.
One race to watch is a Republican primary in the 16th District where Campbellsville University professor Max Wise is challenging incumbent Sara Beth Gregory, a Monticello attorney. There will be a Republican primary in the 2nd, Leeper’s district, and a Democratic primary in the open 6th District where Democrat incumbent Jerry Rhoads is retiring.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
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