GOP hopes Ky. presidential caucus boosts prospects for candidates in Tuesday's four special House elections

03/06/2016 08:00 PM

Saturday’s Republican caucus gave Kentuckians a brief spot in the national political limelight as GOP presidential contenders jockeyed for delegates in search of their party’s nomination.

But state Republican candidates hoped to capitalize on the thousands of party faithful who churned through caucus sites during a six-hour window this weekend.

“I would guess 500 or 600 easily, if not 1,000,” said Georgetown businessman Phillip Pratt, who is vying to fill the term of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in the 62nd House District, when asked how many voters he had met during the caucus at around noon.

Saturday marked an “extremely hectic” day for Pratt at Georgetown’s First United Methodist Church, where 2,997 Republicans made their picks in a bare-knuckled presidential primary. Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz lost the statewide vote by more than 4 points but carried Scott County with 35.4 percent of the vote to New York real estate mogul Donald Trump’s 30.4 percent.

Pratt tried to shake as many hands as possible ahead of his contest with former Democratic Scott County Magistrate Chuck Tackett on Tuesday, hoping to get many of those voters who turned out Saturday to hit their normal voting precincts days later. He’s one of eight candidates in four special races in the House of Representatives, where Democrats are holding onto a 50-46 majority in the midst of a 60-day budget session in the General Assembly.

“I reached people who didn’t even know there was an election on Tuesday,” said Pratt, who is competing in a district that also includes Owen County and part of Fayette. “There are people that didn’t even know I was in the race today, so yes, this has been very beneficial in getting my face out and my message out to the people in the Republican Party.”

Pratt wasn’t alone at the Georgetown caucus site.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, who will face Cynthiana’s Roger Brill in this year’s GOP primary, met with Scott County voters during a loop through the 6th Congressional District on Saturday.

“I think it is a structural advantage for these Republican candidates,” said Barr, R-Lexington. “Phillip Pratt for example here in Scott County is talking to every one of these voters, shaking hands and reminding them that they need to come back in a couple of days to vote in this special election, so that’s got to be to his advantage and I certainly hope it is because nothing’s more important to moving Kentucky forward than flipping the House and making sure that Republicans control the House of Representatives.”

Democrats were sure to keep their rivals aware that they weren’t sitting on their hands during Saturday’s Republican caucus.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairwoman Sannie Overly called the day a great one for democracy as results of the caucus slowly rolled in.

“Voters were out for this wild Republican presidential race, and we saw tremendous energy from Democrats working rain or shine in each of the four special elections – where hundreds of volunteers were knocking on doors and calling to remind voters that Tuesday is Election Day, and a critical day for our Commonwealth,” she said in a statement Saturday evening.

Some will watch to see what impact the presidential caucus has on turnout in the May primaries, but Barr says he expects the energy he saw from Republican voters on Saturday to carry over into the primaries.

“I’d say most of the people I’ve talked to today are people that I’ve never met before, and that’s saying something because we’re out in the 6th Congressional District all the time with office hours,” he said. “We do coffee with your congressman, we do town hall meetings, and yet today there are people I’ve never met before. It just goes to show the energy and enthusiasm and the grassroots interest in this upcoming election.”

Republican Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger is another candidate hoping to capitalize on voter outreach ahead of May 17.

He traded hats as caucus official and candidate to replace state Rep. Brad Montell in the House of Representatives throughout the day, though he limited his campaigning to a designated area in the school’s cafeteria and said he spent much of his time volunteering for the local party.

His primary opponent, Shelbyville business consultant Kendall Law, was not at Shelby County West Middle School, where 3,281 Republicans cast ballots on Saturday. Cruz also won Shelby County over Trump with 34.7 percent of the vote to 31.2 percent, respectively.

“This has offered a great conduit, having this many Republicans in one place as they flow through to be able to personally sit there and be able to talk to them, put a card in their hand and also remind them that we’ve got a May primary coming up,” Rothenburger said.

The winner of the GOP primary for the 58th House District will face Democratic candidate Cyndi Powell Skellie, an Emerge candidate, in the general election.

Republicans have been quick to pin votes for President Barack Obama on some Democrats seeking office.

But like Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes when the question of whether she voted for Obama emerged during her 2014 Senate campaign, Republicans seeking office this year wanted their privacy at the ballot box respected as they made their picks in a rough-and-tumble contest for the GOP presidential nod.

“I always kind of look at it as it’s secret ballot,” Rothenburger said. “I like to keep my ballot secret.”

“That’s a private vote,” Pratt said. “Not going there, but thank you for the question sir.”

Either of the four GOP presidential candidates still in the race will offer a better alternative to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who looks to be a step closer to securing the Democratic presidential nomination after Saturday, or independent Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Barr said.

“Anybody but Clinton, and I just want a president, number one, regardless of who it is out of these remaining four, I want a president who’s going to be a commander in chief who will keep the American people safe and, number two, who’s going to sign the bills that we send to him to save the country from bankruptcy, fiscal responsibility and promoting free enterprise to produce growth,” Barr said.

“Any of these four remaining candidates would be far better than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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