Primary 2018: The most interesting primary races to watch in the state House and Senate

05/16/2018 04:22 PM

Kentuckians have less than a week before making their way to the polls (if they’re registered as Democrat or Republican), and deciding who to nominate to represent them in the November General Election.

There are a slew of open seats this year, 21 to be exact — 10 held by Republicans and 11 held by Democrats; the fight for control of the lower chamber still rages, even though Republicans hold 63 seats to Democrats 37. Democrats feel bullish in their chances to recapture seats lost in 2016 during the Trump wave, but Republicans have the dollars at their back in General Election contests.

The biggest race to watch on May 22 will take place in central Kentucky for the 6th Congressional Dist. Democratic primary, but at the local level here are the races which could decide representation in Frankfort next year.


26th Dist. state Senate GOP primary: held by Sen. Ernie Harris
In his search for a seventh term in the state Senate Harris is taking no chances and calling in support from colleagues to hang on to his seat as personal injury lawyer Alex White seeks to replace the incumbent.

The latest back-and-forth and dueling complaints reported by Pure Politics on Tuesday, shows Harris is likely nervous about the re-election campaign in the disrupted environment.

Harris has raised over $100,000 for the re-election contest. White has also raised big for a first time candidate, with $44,925 in the bank, according to his 30 day Kentucky Registry of Election Finance report.

The winner will take on the winner of the Democratic primary Emrge Kentucky graduate Karen Berg or Matt Kaufmann.

32nd Dist. state Senate GOP Primary: held by Sen. Mike Wilson
Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, makes our list with a major primary challenge from two-term Magistrate Darrell Traughber in what could be a highly contested primary battle in the Warren County district. Wilson is the Senate Majority Whip, but several in leadership in the General Assembly are trying to protect their flank this election season especially after a rough year and tough votes.

Wilson has raised more than $88,000 for the re-election contest, according to a 15-day pre-primary campaign filing with the Registry of Election Finance. Traughber is struggling in fundraising against the incumbent raising less than $13,000 for the contest, according to his 30-day pre-primary KREF report.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Jeanie Smith, a seventh grade social studies teacher and Emerge Kentucky graduate.


3rd Dist. House – Republican primary: Open seat, Democrat held
There will be a general election for this seat which is currently held by retiring Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, who has served philosophically conservative, particularly on social issues. There are two Republicans, Randy Bridges, who ran against Watkins in 2014, and Joni Hogancamp who challenged Watkins in 2016, vying to challenge Democratic candidate Martha Emmons, who is also an Emerge Kentucky graduate, in the partial McCracken Co. district.

Hogancamp is the co-owner of Caring People Services in Paducah, she challenged Watkins in 2016, but failed to take him out coming up with 44.6 percent of the vote. Bridges is a lifelong resident of McCracken County and a local realtor. Hogancamp has raised nearly $20,000 for the race, and goes into the homestretch with $10,985 in the bank, according to her 15 day KREF report. Bridges has raised nearly $35,000 for the race, and has $26,357 in the bank.

4th Dist. House – Republican primary: Republican held

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, seems to have gotten crossed with some local elected officials, and drew a serious challenger in Fred Stubblefield, a district member at large with the Republican Party of Kentucky.

The district encompasses Caldwell, part of Christian, Crittenden and Livingston Counties in Western Kentucky. The winner will face Abigail Barnes, of Salem, in the General Election.

6th Dist. House – Republican and Democratic primary: Open seat, Democrat held
There’s a three-way Democratic primary and a two-way Republican primary in this seat that has been held by Rep. Will Coursey, D-Benton, who is seeking local office as Marshall County Judge-Executive.

There will be no geographical battles in these primaries with all of the contestants in the Democratic and Republican primary hailing from Benton. On the Democratic side, Al Cunningham, Linda Story Edwards and Drew Williams will face-off.

The Republican primary includes Randall Fox and Chris Freeland.

The district encompasses all of Lyon, all of Marshall and part of McCracken County.

14th Dist. Republican primary: Republican held, open seat

With freshman Rep. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, seeking a seat in the state Senate there is an open seat race in this district which encompasses part of Daviess and all of Ohio County.

Running to replace Castlen is Jordan Lanham, a coal mine operator, he will face Ohio County School Superintendent Scott Lewis. Lewis’ time as an education official puts him in a unique position heading into the primary, as many educators vow to vote against those supporting Bevin, and changes to the Teachers’ Retirement System.

The winner of the race will face Democratic candidate Elizabeth Belcher.

17th, 19th and 61st District GOP Primary: All GOP held, all districts where incumbents settled a sexual harassment case.

The two western and one northern Kentucky districts where three GOP candidates participated in a sexual harassment settlement, and later faced an ethics probe for that participation all make the next spot in the list.

Two incumbents, Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, opted not to seek re-election following the scandal — thus creating open seat battles for their seats. Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, is seeking another term, but faces former two-term Bowling Green city commissioner Brian Strow. Strow is a professor of economics at Western Kentucky University.

For a breakdown of the races, and the competitors check the previous list in the series of campaign updates here.

20th Dist. House Democratic and Republican primary: Open seat, Democrat held

There’s a five-way Democratic primary to replace former House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, in the western Kentucky district. This Democratic primary will be interesting, and there are some top-tier contenders seeking to replace the 40-year incumbent.

Two elected officials will appear in the Democratic field, Bowling Green City Commissioner Brian “Slim” Nash and former Bowling Green Mayor Eldon John Renaud. Rounding out the five-person primary is Rick DuBose, a former WKU assistant vice president for alumni relations who is now retired, Patti Minter an Emerge Kentucky graduate and professor at WKU, and Ashlea Shepherd Porter, an attorney.

On the Republican side of the aisle three from the GOP are seeking their Republican Party nomination. Todd Alcott, JROTC instructor at Warren East High School, faces Troy Brooks, a former attorney and business consultant, and Benjamin Lawson, who works in the insurance industry with Van Meter Insurance.

Perhaps foreshadowing what’s to come in the General Election, every candidate in the race said they disapproved with Gov. Matt Bevin’s performance in a recent candidate forum.

35th Dist. House Democratic primary: Open seat, Democrat held
There is an extremely high likelihood that whoever becomes the Democratic nominee in this solidly Democratic district will go on to become the state Representative in November. This primary is the result of Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, exit from the General Assembly at the end of the year.

Three-Democrats will face each other in the primary. Union organizer Richard Becker faces Democratic campaign consultant Jack Walker, who has served the Kentucky Democratic Party State Central Executive Committee, and Lisa Willner the Jefferson County Public Schools board vice chair.

Becker is being endorsed by Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville,as well as Lousville Democratic Reps. Al Gentry and Jeff Donohue. Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, is backing Willner in the contest.

Recently, Rep. Wayne warned that one of the candidates in race could soon be backed by an independent expenditure group which was planning “negative campaign attacks against at least one Democrat running for state representative.”

Willner raised $53,150 for the primary and has $28,702 in the bank, according to her report. Becker raised $58,052.23 to date with $13,340.86 on hand, according to his campaign. Walker put together $19,484 for the campaign, and is down to $9,633 in cash on hand. Watch a Pure Politics profile of the race here.
A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Becker’s fundraising totals.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Donna Lawlor.

40th Dist. House Democratic Primary: Held by Rep. Dennis Horlander, Democrat held

The 22 year incumbent is facing one of his toughest re-elections in recent memory and unable to door-to-door campaign, because of recent back surgeries — one of which kept him off the House floor part of this session.

There are three Democratic challengers seeking to unseat the incumbent, which include: 2012 University of Louisville graduate Logan Gatti, a consultant at Humana in operational risk management and owner of a small property management company, Kelly Gibson, a conductor with CSX Transportation and union president, and Nima Kulkarni, an immigration and employment law attorney in Louisville, who is also an Emerge Kentucky graduate.

Pure Politics profiled the race recently, Horlander declined a request for an interview, but his opponents all participated in interviews.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Joshua Neubert in the General Election.

43rd Dist. House Democratic primary: Open seat, Democrat held

The largest primary of the season is taking place in Louisville as seven Democrats have crowded the field to replace Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, who is retiring after 13 years in Frankfort.

Phil Baker and Charles Booker, two former candidates from the 2016 primary election field, make the list of those seeking to replace Owens. Booker primaried mentor Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, in 2016, and Baker competed in a three-way primary for the 41st House Dist. seat, losing to current Rep. Attica Scott.

Baker is facing an on-going court battle over his bona fides to represent the district. According to a court filing, his residency is being challenged in Jefferson Co. Circuit Court. The condition of the home, which he is renting from a relative for $400 a month, is reported in court documents as being in dis-repair, including having a boarded up window and a gas meter that had not been turned on in February of 2018. Baker’s attorney argued service of gas and water, are easily disproven and not required to maintain the residency requirement in the state Constitution. Judge Mary Shaw has not decided the case.

Baker is being backed by Sen. Neal and Rep. Owens in the primary. Rep. Attica Scott is endorsing Booker.

The Democratic field also includes: Jackson Andrews, Dre Dawson (who also faces a challenge to his residency), Mark Mitchell, Kathleen Parks, and Pamela Stevenson.

Two Republicans also filed to compete in the race: Evertt Corley, who Insider Louisville reports “is known for his opposition to removing Confederate statues and calling UofL professor Dr. Ricky Jones a “damn dirty black bastard.” Republican Denise Raine is also running in the GOP primary.

71st Dist. Republican primary: Republican held
For the second cycle in a row Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, makes our most interesting primary list. The House Majority Floor Leader is defending his right flank this season against R. Travis Brenda, a teacher from Berea.

Brenda has raised $16,126 for the campaign, and heads into the final stretch with $3,019 in the bank. Shell raised a whopping $131,243 for the election and has $55,800 left in cash-on-hand.

The winner of the primary faces Democratic candidate Mary J. Renfro in the General Election.

81st Dist. Republican primary: Republican held
Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, could be in trouble this primary season. Morgan hasn’t found a lot of friends in the GOP caucus in the state House. The Repblican House member has courted controversey since joinging the chamber, and was one of the loudest voices in calling for former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, ouster.

Morgan faces Deanna L. Frazier an audiologist in the primary; she has raised $17,945, and has $4,925 entering the home stretch. Morgan raised $18,933 and has $3,965 in cash-on-hand.

The winner will face Emerge Kentucky graduate Morgan Eaves, a city commissioner in the November election.

88th Dist. Democratic and Republican primary: Open seat, Republican held
With the surprise announcement from Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, created a three-way Democratic and Republican primary.

On the GOP side of the aisle, former Rep. Bill Farmer, who was the defacto tax man for the Republicans in the House from 2003 to 2012, when he stepped down will try and rejoin the legislature. Farmer faces Ashley Boggs Bruggeman who serves on the Humanities Council and Jennifer McVay Martin a Lexington lawyer who has navigated the political fray before challenging Judge Kathy Stein for Fayette County Family Court. Pure Politics profiled the GOP primary, available here.

On the Democratic side of the aisle chairman of Lexington Fairness Josh Mers has filed for the open seat. Mers faces Cherlynn Stevenson, a non-profit event planner and producer and Gail Swanson, a psychology professor at Bluegrass Community & Technical College in Lexington. Mers has been endorsed by the Lexington Herald Leader. The Democratic primary was profiled by Pure Politics, and is available here.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Stevenson as a former teacher.

89th Dist. Republican primary: Republican held
Less than a year into his time in the state legislature, and it may be cut short for Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, won the special election in February to replace Rep. Marie Rader in the district which encompasses all of Jackson and part of Laurel and Madison County.

Goforth has found few allies in Frankfort, and now faces a primary from Keith Hays, of McKee. Hays has served as the principal of Jackson County High School for the last decade and is set to retire in July.

The winner will take on Kelly Smith, who lost in the special election to Goforth in the heavily Republican district.

90th Dist. Republican primary: Republican held, winner-take-all
Republican Rep. Tim Couch, of Hyden, will be facing off against Derek Lewis, of London, a small business owner, president of the Hyden-Leslie Chamber of Commerce, as well as a member of the ARH Regional Board, Trails of Leslie County, Housing Development Alliance, and the Leslie County Community Foundation.

Couch has held the district which encompasses all of Clay, Leslie and part of Laurel County since 2003.

91st Dist. Republican and Democratic primary: Republican held
The political back-and-forth saga is something to watch in this eastern Kentucky district as former Rep. Cluster Howard, Democrat, has filed once again for the seat held by current, and also former, Rep. Toby Herald, a Republican. There are rumors of the primary challengers to both Howard and Herald as plants in the primary, as the candidates trade paint in this tug-of-war.

Howard faces Bruce Shouse in the Democratic primary, and Herald faces Robert Goe in the Republican primary.

These two men have swapped ownership of the seat frequently, and it could happen again in the district which encompasses Breathitt, Estill, Lee, Owsley and part of Madison counties.


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