Outlook of Ky. House races: GOP needs a perfect Election Night to take House

10/22/2012 04:23 PM

It’s well documented that House Republicans want to take control of that chamber this year.

Much is at stake. Kentucky’s House is one of three chambers in the south (the other two are the Arkansas House and Senate) controlled by Democrats. Gov. Steve Beshear wants to keep Democrats in control so he has at least one friendly legislative chamber to work with. And Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, want a takeover to be the next step in turning Kentucky red.

Plus, there’s that matter of controlling the redistricting pens starting next year when the 100 House districts must be redrawn to make sure populations are roughly even.

But to do it, Republicans need a net gain of 10 seats to wrest control from Democrats, who 58 seats compared to 41 for Republicans and one is vacant.

Republicans would have to defend their three most vulnerable incumbents and an open seat in western Kentucky that is leaning toward the Democrats. And they would have to essentially run the table on toss-up races and open seats vacated by Democrats. Even then, they would still need a few surprise wins to pick up 10 seats.

With two weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, here’s a snapshot of how 20 of the key races are shaping up based on factors like shoeleather campaigning, name recognition, incumbency, political trending of the district and likely effect of other races, such as the presidential race.

2nd Dist. (Graves Co., pt. of McCracken Co.) vacant seat, formerly Democratic
Leans R
It’s an open seat with two strong candidates whose positions fit the conservative western Kentucky district. After interviews with Pure Politics, Democrat Kelly Whitaker displayed a more detailed knowledge of a wider breadth of issues. But Heath, a businessman, has deep support in the biggest population center of Mayfield and the northern part of Graves County. President Barack Obama won’t help Democrats in the district either.
Heath (R ): $30,695
Whitaker (D): $47,678

3rd Dist. (Paducah) open seat to replace Republican Brent Housman
Leans D
It is one of Democrats’ best chances for a pick-up as Republican voters are outnumbered 2-1 in this district. Democrat Gerald Watkins is a city commissioner and longtime political science professor at the community college. He’s better known than his Republican opponent, Jason Crockett. But Crockett, a 33-year-old radio station manager, sunk his life savings of $90,000 into the race after raising less than $4,500 from others. Democrats are taking no chances and the super PAC, Kentucky Family Values, has bought a week’s worth of TV ads slamming Crockett.
Watkins (D): $58,714
Crockett (R ): $95,425

4th Dist. (Caldwell, Crittenden and Livington Cos. and pt. of McCracken Co.) open seat to replace Democrat Mike Cherry
Likely D
Republican Lynn Bechler lost two years ago to Rep. Mike Cherry, who is retiring, 61 percent to 39 percent. And Bechler is the only western Kentucky candidate of either party not to get an A rating from the NRA. Democrat Raymond Giannini (pronounced Gin-nine-uh) has worked as the Caldwell County health director and has received heavy support from Democrats in a district heavy with registered Democrats.
Giannini (D): $41,927
Bechler (R ): $20,075

5th Dist. (Calloway Co., pt. of Trigg Co.) open seat to replace Democrat Melvin Henley
_Toss-up _
Republican Kenny Imes, a farmer and funeral home owner, served as Democrat in the House in the 1970s and has switched parties. In his last race, he lost a bid for Calloway County judge-executive in 2006. That same year, his Democratic opponent in this year’s race, Hal Kemp, lost his race for this state House seat. Kemp, a former medical device company founder, now owns the Dairy Queen in Murray.
Kemp (D): n/a
Imes (R ): $42,786

7th Dist. (Union Co., pts of Daviess and Henderson Cos.) Democratic seat
Toss-up
Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, faces his first general election competition since 2004 when he won with 54 percent of the vote. With Obama at the top of the ballot and Arnold slowed as he recovers from heart surgery this spring, Republicans believe they have a chance to unseat Arnold after 18 years in Frankfort. Tim Kline, a lawyer who received the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement, is pinning his hopes on a strong showing in the Henderson and Daviess county parts of the district. But Arnold easily won his Democratic primary on the strength of his support in Union County, which accounts for a little over a third of the district.
Arnold (D): $58,459
Kline (R ): $63,314

13th Dist. (Owensboro) Democratic seat
Toss-up
Democrats are concerned about Rep. Jim Glenn, who was caught off guard two years ago and ended up winning by just 206 votes over a lesser-known, less-funded challenger. This time, he’s been more aggressive in raising money and has collected twice as much as his independent opponent, Bill Barron. Barron, a prominent commercial real estate developer, is a conservative and would caucus with Republicans if he won. He is trying to be the first independent to knock off an incumbent lawmaker in Kentucky. Glenn has received campaigning help from most of the big names in the Kentucky Democratic Party. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-1 in the district, but Owensboro has been moving to the right, electing a Republican state Senator and several county officers in recent years.
Glenn (D): $118,685
Barron (I): $61,263

16th Dist. (Logan and Todd Cos.) Democratic seat
Leans D
Democratic Rep. Martha Jane King won’t lose by being caught off guard. The extra-cautious King is a tireless campaigner who has strong ties to both counties. Her opponent, Chris Hightower, is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s 2010 campaign and has been advertising heavily in the district.
King (D): $56,927
Hightower (R ): $30,385

24th Dist. (Marion and Casey and part of Pulaski Cos.) Democratic seat
Democratic Rep. Terry Mills vs. Bill Pickerill (tilts Republican)
Tilts R
On paper, this race looks like it should be weighted more toward Pickerill. It’s one of only two House districts in which a Democrat represents a district with more Republicans than Democrats, 13,231 to 13,021. Mills has held the seat for two years after winning a special election when Jimmy Higdon moved to the Senate. Like Mills, Pickerill hails from Marion County – the most populous county in the district. The 24th also includes heavily Republican Casey County and part of Pulaski County – two areas Pickerill will do well in.
Mills (D): $69,088
Pickerill (R ): $7,050.

27th Dist. (Meade and parts of Bullitt and Hardin Cos.) Democratic seat
Leans D
It’s one of several rematches involving Republicans who came close in 2010 to unseating incumbent Democrats. Rep. Jeff Greer hung on by 128 votes over Republican Dalton Jantzen, a frequent candidate for Meade County offices. But Greer admittedly is more engaged in this race than his last race when he was going through a divorce. However, Greer – the chairman of the House Banking and Insurance Committee – still spent more than $112,000 compared to Jantzen’s $19,975 two years ago only to narrowly survive. The fundraising disparity has slightly widened this year.
Greer (D): $115,221
Jantzen (R ): $14,215

31st Dist. (Jeffersontown and Hikes Point areas in Louisville) Democratic seat
Leans D
Democratic Rep. Steve Riggs has represented the district since 1991, winning re-election most years comfortably and usually without opposition. But businessman Nick Simon, owner of Publishers Printing, is making a race out of it. Still, Riggs has been campaigning door-to-door relentlessly and while he’s only raised $23,875, he has more than $64,000 in the bank heading into the final month of the election because of money he carried over.
Riggs (D): $23,875
Simon (R ): $51,657

36th Dist. (Garrard and pt. of Madison Cos.) open seat to replace Republican Lonnie Napier
Likely R
Republican Jonathan Shell, a 24-year-old farmer, was going to run for Lancaster city council before Napier announced his retirement. Then he proved to be a tireless campaigner on the way to defeating Napier’s preferred candidate in the May primary. Overall, the district has slightly more Republicans than registered Democrats (15,023 to 14,501). Shell hails from the heavily Republican Garrard County, which makes up only a third of the district. Democratic candidate Bradley “Bud” Montgomery is from the most heavily Democratic area in the district – Berea – where he owns Montgomery Farm and Gardens.
Shell (R ): $36,573
Montgomery (D): $26,623

*38th Dist. *(South Louisville) Republican seat
Tilts D
This will be one of the first big bellwether House races to be counted on Election Night. It’s the opposite of the 24th District – a district that overwhelmingly favors Democrats on paper that’s represented by a Republican. It’s a district U.S. Sen. Rand Paul lost two years ago at the same time Republican Mike Nemes won the seat. Nemes outworked incumbent Tim Firkins that fall. This year, Nemes and Democrat Denny Butler – the son of Firkins’ predecessor in the seat, Denver Butler – both have been campaigning hard. With the candidates largely canceling each other out on the shoe-leather campaigning, the recognizable Butler name and the 2-1 Democratic voter registration advantage could give Butler an edge heading into Election Day. But Nemes is still the incumbent and is running as a moderate, independent-minded candidate.
Nemes (R ): $22,819
Butler (D): $61,369

39th Dist. (Jessamine Co. and south Fayette Co.) Democratic seat
Likely D
The race barely made the list — and mostly by virtue of conservative nature of the district. Voter registration is close between Republicans and Democrats, but Jessamine County has been reliably Republican in recent elections — especially presidential election years. Still, Democratic Rep. Bob Damron defies his critics every time, out fundraising and outworking opponents. That tenacity also has earned him the position of House Democratic Caucus Chairman, which gives him further clout. Still, Republicans would love nothing more than to take out one of the Democrats’ leaders. Their candidate, Republican Matt Lockett, is most known for running in the 2010 GOP primary for Congress, in which he finished a distant third out of six. Republicans have been trying to make an issue out of Damron’s eagerness to shed some of Jessamine County through the legislature’s failed attempt at redistricting earlier this year.
Damron (D): $172,562
Lockett (R ): $13,593

49th Dist. (North Bullitt Co.) Democratic seat
Toss-up
It’s a rematch of the closest race in Kentucky in 2010, one that Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville won by 101 votes. Republican candidate Russell Webber is mounting a second try and this time has received more help from prominent Republicans like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and GOP 4th congressional district nominee Thomas Massie in the nearby. The district is very close registration-wise, 19,248 Democrats to 14,341 Republicans but is very conservative by nature. It has ping-ponged back and forth from being represented by Republicans and Democrats over the last 15 years.
Belcher (D): $61,557
Webber (R ): $21,148

50th Dist. (Nelson Co. and pts of Bullitt and Spencer Cos.) Republican seat
Leans R
Republican Rep. David Floyd has established himself as one of the most conservative members of the House. Democrats, for that reason, think he’s vulnerable in a central Kentucky district that, while not urban, is nestled between the metropolitan areas of Louisville and Lexington. That party’s candidate, Dick Heaton, is a former mayor of Bardstown and a car dealer. Heaton has doubled the money Floyd has raised, plus the House Democratic Caucus have run TV ads against Floyd criticizing him for voting against the final version of a bill this spring aimed at curbing prescription pill abuse. But Floyd, a former House GOP whip, is well known in the district having served since 2004.
Floyd (R ): $27,746
Heaton (D): $53,015

54th Dist. (Washington and Boyle Cos.) Republican seat
Leans R
The House Democratic Caucus Committee also is targeting Republican Rep. Mike Harmon of Boyle County with a similar ad on the pill bill. Harmon had raised objections to the sweeping nature of some of the prescription tracking. And Republicans now say cumbersome regulations have proven him to be right as law abiding Kentuckians are finding it difficult to easily get certain medications for chronic problems. Harmon has been a perennial target for Democrats and manages to win handily each time even while being out-spent. In one of the more confusing match-ups this year, he faces Barry Harmon, the Boyle County Jailer – no relation.
Mike Harmon (R ): $13,091
Barry Harmon (D): $44,507

61st Dist. (Grant, Owen and Gallatin Cos.) open seat to replace Democrat Royce Adams
Leans R
The district lies on the fringes of the very conservative Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati. While it has been held for 150 years by Democrats, Republicans believe they have a strong chance to pick it up with Brian Linder, a Grant County magistrate. He faces Democrat Wanda Crupper Hammons, an EMT. Hammons is the daughter of Dry Ridge Mayor Clay Crupper, who held the seat before Adams. Linder expects to be buoyed by the races above the House race – for president, Congress and state Senator – all favor Republicans.
Linder (R ): $22,811
Hammons (D): $48,854

62nd Dist. (Scott Co. and pt. of Fayette Co.) Republican seat
Toss-up
This race wouldn’t have made the list a couple weeks ago. But Democrat Charlie Hoffman, through shoe-leather campaigning, has worked his way into the top tier. Democrats say they have poll numbers showing this district as win-able. Hoffman, who held the seat from 1997 until 2010, is challenging freshman Republican Rep. Ryan Quarles, who narrowly defeated Hoffman 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent in 2010.
Quarles (R ): $42,754
Hoffman (D): $59,711

73rd Dist. (Clark Co. and pt. of Madison Co.) Republican seat
Toss-up
Another freshman Republican, Donna Mayfield, finds herself in a tough re-election for a second term. Mayfield, a secretary in the Clark County Sheriff’s office, faces Democrat JoEllen Reed, a Clark County commissioner who works at the Winchester campus of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Reed has proven to be an impressive fundraiser in her first run for the state legislature. Mayfield, an aggressive campaigner, snuck up on longtime Rep. Don Pasley in 2010 in beating him by six points. But she is more evenly matched in the shoe-leather campaigning department this time.
Mayfield (R ): $35,202
Reed (D): $84,807

88th Dist. (Southern Fayette Co.) open seat to replace Republican Bill Farmer
Leans R
The suburbs and farmlands in southern Fayette County make for difficult door-to-door campaigning. But Democrat Reginald Thomas, an associate professor of social work at Kentucky State University, has been wearing out his shoes to do just that. His hard work and prolific fundraising for a first-time legislative candidate has made a competitive race out of one that should be a lock for Republicans. The district is Republican performing even though registered Democrats slightly out-number Republicans (17,337 to 16,460). Republican Robert Benvenuti, a lawyer and former inspector general of the state’s health cabinet, is familiar with Frankfort and has been running on his knowledge of state government.
Benvenuti (R ): $57,205
Thomas (D): $78,528

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