FRANKFORT – Here’s a brief overview of two congressional primaries: the Republican race in the 1st in western Kentucky and the 6th in central Kentucky.
FIRST DISTRICT REPUBLICAN PRIMARY: This is the only open seat among the federal races as Republican incumbent Ed Whitfield isn’t running for re-election.
The district covers 35 counties stretching from Paducah to Henderson in the north and along the Tennessee border in the south before hooking northward around the southern end of the 2nd District to include Casey, Taylor and Marion counties.
While the district is historically associated with Democrats who still outnumber Republicans in voter registration, it has become a Republican stronghold in federal races.
Former Agriculture Commissioner James Comer of Tompkinsville hails from the eastern end of the district, from solidly Republican Monroe County. He is running against two western Kentucky Republicans: Mike Pape of Hopkinsville who served on Whitfield’s staff for 21 years and Hickman County Attorney Jason Batts of Clinton who is a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Comer lost an agonizingly close race last year for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, losing by 83 votes to eventual winner and now Gov. Matt Bevin in the Republican primary.
Originally considered the front-runner in that race, Comer was plagued by allegations of abuse by a college girlfriend, which he denies. But he made the race close primarily in counties in the 1st Congressional District.
Comer hopes to win handily in the eastern portion of the district, his home base, but his time as Agriculture Commissioner often took him to western Kentucky’s agricultural centers where he built a network of support as well.
Pape counters that his time as Whitfield’s aide took him to every county in the district.
Pape ran a controversial television ad showing three men speaking Spanish and trying to cut through a chain link fence who said they feared Donald Trump and Pape who is shown at the end of the ad saying he’ll help Trump build a wall along the southern border.
All three are running as political outsiders, although Comer served for years in the General Assembly and four years as Agriculture Commissioner while Pape worked for Whitfield for more than 20 years.
There aren’t a lot of differences on issues: all want to reduce the national debt and what they call over regulation by the federal government. All characterize themselves as supporters of the coal industry and oppose “amnesty” for immigrants.
The winner will face Democrat Sam Gaskins, a retired Marine and construction worker from Hopkinsville, in the fall election.
SECOND DISTRICT DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY: Nancy Jo Kemper, a part-time pastor and former Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, faces perennial candidate Geoff Young. They both live in Lexington.
The winner will face incumbent Republican Andy Barr in the fall and it will be a tough task for either Democrat, although Kemper is expected to win her party’s nomination in Tuesday’s primary.
Young, 59, is a retired state employee and graduate of MIT where he earned a degree in economics. He’s run quixotic, unsuccessful races for Congress, governor and state representative and has frequently – and unsuccessfully so far – sued state Democratic Party officials and opponents.
He often lodges personal attacks on his opponents, calling them “unqualified” or “cowardly” or illegitimately the choice of party bosses.
His primary issue is a call to reduce military spending, which he wants to re-direct to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.
Kemper, 74, is a graduate of Transylvania University and the Yale University Divinity School who raised her two daughters as a single mother.
She supports increasing the minimum wage, expanding pre-kindergarten education, protecting Medicare and Social Security and measures to relieve student debt. While serving as Executive Director for the Council of Churches, Kemper lobbied the state legislature on several issues including opposition to casino gambling and the death penalty.
When she announced her candidacy, Kemper said her work as a pastor and with the Council of Churches helps prepare her for her duties in Congress.
“I see public service as just a further extension of that life-long work. I think, frankly, that a United States representative ought to be in some sense a minister of and for the people.”
Barr is in his third term, having unseated Democrat Ben Chandler in 2012 and easily turning back a challenge in 2012 from Democrat Elisabeth Jensen who couldn’t compete with Barr financially and in the media.
Barr has already raised $1.5 million for the 2016 race while Kemper has raised just over $130,000.
Kemper criticizes Barr for spending “an obscene amount” of money on his campaigns, money she said he raises from financial institutions and health insurers while voting against the economic interests of most Kentuckians.