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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Kentucky -- 02

KY 02: Dem +8

In advance of the 1994 general election, Republican Ron Lewis' win in a Kentucky special election gave the first hint of an impending GOP landslide. Fourteen years later, as Lewis steps down from Congress, a poll in Kentucky's Second District could be a good sign for Democrats, as State Senator David Boswell sports a lead over his Republican rival.

The survey, conducted for Boswell's campaign by Garin-Hart-Yang, surveyed 403 likely voters between 8/23-25 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Boswell and State Senator Brett Guthrie, the GOP nominee, were tested among a sample made up of 58% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 7% independents. The actual voter registration in the district is 58% Democrats and 36% Republicans, the polling memo notes.

General Election Matchup
Boswell.................41
Guthrie..................33

Generic Dem.........39
Generic GOPer.....35

Running as a conservative Democrat, Boswell has taken positions that look like those adopted by others in his party who have found success in the South this year. Reps. Travis Childers of Mississippi and Don Cazayoux of Louisiana both won special elections running as a pro-life and pro-gun Democrats.

Despite the overwhelmingly Democratic registration, President Bush carried the Second District with 65% of the vote in 2004. The large number of undecided voters means Guthrie has a good chance to close the gap with Boswell. But Boswell's early lead is still a bad sign for Republicans in a district Lewis never had trouble retaining.

Lunsford, McConnell To Face Off

As the pledged delegates were being divvied up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Kentucky last night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell learned who will be challenging him in November.

Entrepreneur Bruce Lunsford, who has lost the last two Democratic primaries for governor, defeated Greg Fischer 51%-34% and now faces an uphill battle against McConnell. A recent poll showed Lunsford trailing McConnell by 12 points, though McConnell was held below 50%. While McConnell enjoys a substantial fundraising lead, as well as the advantages of incumbency, his ties to President Bush could prove troubling in the general election.

Both Democratic candidates are wealthy and spent much of their own money on the race. Lunsford held the advantage of key union endorsements and high name recognition, as well as the endorsement of former candidate Andrew Horne following his departure from the race. Fischer ran a last-minute TV attack ad against Lunsford that called him the "Mud Man" and noted Lunsford's 2003 endorsement of Republican Ernie Fletcher, who went on to a scandal-plagued governorship.

Another competitive race was crystallized in the Louisville-based Third District, where the 2006 election was decided by just 6,000 votes. For the second cycle in a row, freshman Rep. John Yarmuth will face Anne Northup, the former congresswoman whom he knocked out of office. Northup easily won the Republican nomination with 77% of the vote. Yarmuth begins the general election race with a $300,000 cash advantage, according to the latest FEC reports.

In Western Kentucky's vast Second District, State Senator David Boswell defeated Daviess County judge-executive Reid Haire 59%-41% to win the Democratic nomination. In the general election for the open seat, Boswell will take on Republican State Senator Brett Guthrie, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. Both Boswell and Guthrie hope to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Ron Lewis, whose May 1994 special election victory foreshadowed the Republican takeover of Congress later that year.

Lewis had attempted to choose his successor by announcing his retirement just before Kentucky's January filing deadline, ensuring that Daniel London, his chief of staff, would be the only Republican on the ballot. However, Guthrie caught wind of the retirement and filed his paperwork at the last minute; and London dropped his bid a week later.

Despite the district's Democratic-leaning tradition, it has been solidly Republican since Lewis entered Congress and gave President Bush his best winning percentages in the state in both 2000 and 2004.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Bluegrass Voters Pick Nominees

Down-ballot from the presidential primaries in Kentucky are three congressional races that will decide the players for what could be competitive general elections. Two incumbents are awaiting their challengers, while Democrats will decide their candidate for an open House seat.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is still favored to retain his seat in November. However, recent polls have backed up national Democrats' view of this race as an upset possibility. McConnell's strong support for President Bush, including on the Iraq war, is his biggest liability; and with his wife still serving as Bush's Labor Secretary, McConnell, some Democrats might argue, is quite literally married to the administration.

Leading the pack of seven Democratic challengers are wealthy businessmen Bruce Lunsford and Greg Fischer, who both hail from Louisville. A recent poll showed Lunsford leading Fischer by 20 points, while both candidates trailed McConnell by 12 points in general election matchups. Both Democrats have spent more than $1 million on the primary, while McConnell has spent closer to $4 million so far, despite a cake-walk primary. The four-term incumbent spent about $5 million in each of his last two re-election campaigns, but he is already close to eclipsing that figure with more than five months remaining until the general election.

In Kentucky's Third District, freshman Democrat John Yarmuth will likely be defending his seat in a grudge match with former Rep. Anne Northup, whom he knocked out of office in 2006 by about 6,000 votes. This marginal Louisville-based district -- both John Kerry and Al Gore defeated Bush by 2 points here -- offers the possibility for competitiveness almost every year. Northup herself won more than 53% just once in her five-term House career. In her attempt to win back the seat, Northup will first need to defeat three GOP primary opponents, though she is likely to do so.

In the 2nd District, which GOP Rep. Ron Lewis is retiring from after seven full terms in office, two Democrats are vying to take on state Senator Brett Guthrie, the Republican nominee. The filing deadline offered some last-minute drama for the GOP, as Lewis attempted to select his successor -- his chief of staff -- by announcing his retirement just before the deadline. However, Guthrie, whom the NRCC calls an "A" candidate, rushed in his paperwork, just in time.

The Democratic nominee will be either State Senator David Boswell or Daviess County judge-executive Reid Haire. Both come from the Owensboro area in Daviess County, the large district's western-most county. Through the end of April, Haire had outspent Boswell two-to-one. Either candidate will face steep odds in the general, as Bush scored his best winning percentages in the state here in both 2000 and 2004. This formerly Democratic district has been in GOP hands since Lewis took over in a 1994 special election that many believe was the first visible crack in the tidal wave that swept Republicans to power that November.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Lewis Pulls Fast One In Retiring

Kentucky Republican Ron Lewis will no longer seek re-election to his 2nd District seat this year, his office revealed yesterday in a story filled with the bizarre twists of old-school politics. Lewis's re-election paperwork had already been turned in by the state's January 29 candidate filing deadline. But as Josh Kraushaar reports, some 11th hour funny business ensued as Lewis tried to ensure his successor.

Daniel London, Lewis's chief of staff, sent his wife to the Kentucky Secretary of State's office to file her husband's paperwork to run for the seat. While there, she also withdrew Lewis's name from the ballot. Their apparent scheme would have allowed London no primary competition, and forced national Republicans to back the unopposed nominee in the general.

It almost worked. But, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, State Senator Brett Guthrie heard about Lewis's impending retirement and rushed to the Secretary of State's office to file his own paperwork with little time to spare.

Republican officials in the state, including Senator Mitch McConnell, seemed to frown upon Lewis not announcing his retirement before the filing deadline, thereby not allowing prospective candidates time to mull their options. In a release, McConnell stated that he is "delighted" that Guthrie entered the race, but made no mention of London. NRCC spokesperson Ken Spain called Guthrie an "'A' candidate."

Guthrie and London will now face off in the May 20 Republican primary. The winner will face one of two Democrats in the general election -- State Senator David Boswell and Davies County Judge Executive Reid Haire.

The 2nd District of Kentucky includes all of 20 counties mostly south of Louisville, as well as a small part of Louisville's Jefferson County. This was President Bush's best-performing district in 2004, winning 65%. Lewis had won mostly lopsided races since entering Congress in a 1994 special election. In 2006, however, Democrat Mike Weaver, a conservative state representative and Vietnam War veteran, held Lewis to 55%.

-- Kyle Trygstad