Special election take aways: Independent candidate and GOP group's ad barrage hurt Republicans

06/26/2013 12:52 PM

A barrage of aggressive ads aired by an outside Republican group to help GOP candidate Lyen Crews in Tuesday’s special election for a House seat may have backfired by drowning out Crews’ message, the Kentucky Republican Chairman said.

The Republican State Leadership Committee spent six figures on the special election to fill the vacant seat in Woodford County, western Lexington and eastern Frankfort. Much of that was on television ads and mailings going after Democratic nominee James Kay.

Kay won the three-way contest with 44 percent of the vote over Republican Lyen Crews (34%) and independent John-Mark Hack (22%). A Democratic super PAC, the Kentucky Family Values group, also got involved in the race on Kay’s behalf.

“It’s very hard for Lyen to put a message through with all this message cover, particularly in the mailboxes. These groups who were trying to help him, maybe pushed some voters away from him,” Robertson said Wednesday in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “It was tough to break through our own clutter.”

For every mailer Crews’ campaign sent out talking about his background and the issues there were two mailers from outside groups carrying negative messages, Robertson said.

And because of campaign finance rules, neither Robertson nor Crews could tell the Republican State Leadership Committee to back off because they cannot coordinate with outside independent organizations. Crews did say publicly, though, that he wished the groups would have stuck to issues.

Robertson said the takeaway wasn’t that voters rejected the outside group or that super PACs have become a hindrance.

“I just think that they did too much. Some of the things they did on television and radio were effective. Where our volunteers and our candidate started noticing a diminishing return was when we were going door to door and people were talking about the volume of mail, television ads and phone calls,” Robertson said.

That only bolstered the campaign of Hack, Robertson said.

“John-Mark Hack was maybe the natural beneficiary to our inability to have Lyen’s issue messages rise to the top and James Kay’s inability to take a position on any issue,” Robertson said.

Hack, a former Democrat who served in Gov. Paul Patton’s administration and is well known for his opposition to casinos, started with a base of his own and ended up drawing 22 percent of the vote.

He may have drawn slightly more voters away from Crews — but likely not enough to have affected the outcome of the election.

Here’s a look at how Kay fared in each of three counties against Crews and how Crews did in those counties when he lost to former Democratic Rep. Carl Rollins in 2010:

…………………….. Kay (D) …………………….. Crews (R )
Franklin ……………56% …………………………. 44%
Fayette …………… 48% …………………………. 52%
Woodford ………… 58% …………………………. 42%

………………….2010 Rollins (D) …………… 2010 Crews (R )
Franklin ………….. 55% ………………………… 45%
Fayette …………… 47% ………………………… 53%
Woodford ………… 53% ………………………… 47%

The biggest difference was in Woodford County, where voters have been leaning more toward Republicans in recent elections and where Democrats have sometimes been divided in the past between factions.

“I think everyone came together and worked on the campaign,” Kay said Wednesday.

He said he knows he lost some votes to Hack “because I know people who voted for him.” But he said he believed Crews lost more to Hack than he did.

(The results with Hack)
…………………….. Kay (D) ………… Crews (R )……….Hack (I)
Franklin ……………46% ……………… 36% …………….. 18%
Fayette …………… 40% ……………… 44% …………….. 16%
Woodford ………… 44% ……………… 31% …………….. 25%

As for lessons learned going into the 2014 election cycle, Robertson said he sees a silver lining in the results.

“Fifty-six percent chose someone else. That’s the issue on their side they need to tackle,” he said. “What that does tell me is that there is an opportunity out there.”

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He has covered politics for more than 10 years, including 7 years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Follow Ryan on Twitter @cn2Alessi. Ryan can be reached at 502-792-1135 or ryan.alessi@twcnews.com.


  • viewer wrote on June 26, 2013 02:00 PM :

    I think all 3 candidates where very good people and would have done good in Frankfort. I hope that other counties look at this and we have more races that have candidates of this quality around the state in 2014.

    I dont like these Super Pacs and what they represent. I want to see more debates , to see who the candidate truly is , and why they believe the way they do. All this money in politics is nothing but Tax Payers money being used against use ( recycled ) , by the people that gets contracts from the government , or from the government looking the other way while they profit from favortism. If you give more than a $100’s to a candidate , you are wanting or needing something in return.

    To Mr. Kay : This gambling is not what its made out to be. Ohio is not making the money they thought they would. They already have cut the tax gains by half they projected. The state of Delaware just gave $8 Million to the casinos to keep the doors open. Im OK with gambling , but dont see how it can be nothing more than a net zero for the state. There will be jobs , but also a lot of problems and crime that comes with it. The Ky lottery money isnt going to education like they said it would , and seems noone is upset at all over where it is going. The schools arent saying a word.

    I would like to thank all 3 candidates for running and giving the rest of the state a good example of good people steping up to run for offices and serve their community.

  • Counterpoint wrote on June 26, 2013 02:31 PM :

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Mitch help steer the RSLC Super PAC’s dollars to this race? And if the mega-spending was bad, Mr. Robertson, why are you only speaking out now? Sure you couldn’t coordinate with the RSLC, but you could still make public statements to the media.

  • Dave wrote on June 27, 2013 01:53 AM :

    Ryan, I really appreciate you and what you do, but I have to push back on this analysis and story.

    First of all, who’s “Robertson?” The article is built around his analysis, but we don’t get a title or even a first name.

    And a lot of people pushed mighty hard to get Crews to speak out against the attack mailers and he was reluctant and quiet at best. If he really thought it would hurt his campaign, I’ve got to imagine he could have spoken up.

    Much of the Republican talking points leading up to the election was that Hack was a left-wing liberal… so to turn around and claim that he took votes away from their candidate seems crazy or at least two-faced.

    I understand that the Republican party wants to cast this defeat in the best possible light, but this is some seriously deep straw-grasping and reporting something this far-fetched at face value is problematic.

    Crews was backed up by a mountain of outside money and ran against an inexperienced political newcomer in the best possible circumstances and still lost big.

    His talking points were tired anti-Obama slogans and his issue stances were unenlightened. The other candidates just did things better and smarter.

  • Bangladesh wrote on June 27, 2013 07:49 AM :

    This is a perfect example of McConnell and the big republican insiders total lack of understanding of elections these days. Scott Jennings who is perhaps the loosingest politico in the history of Kentucky poured a bunch of special interest money in that race and propelled Kay to victory and hurt McConnell even more. If I were Mitch, I’d fire Jennings and start listening to Rand and little Comer instead of Scott Jennings who just passed Larry Forgy as the biggest loser in the Republican party. Mitch, don’t forget about Trey, David Williams/Richie Farmer, Alecia to now go along with Crews!

  • Debbie wrote on June 27, 2013 08:19 AM :

    Well this race didn’t impact me, but unfortunately I had to listen to or watch all the ads. And honestly, I never say one add from Crews until the day before the election when he and his wife did the “poor pitiful me” ad complaining that lies had been told on him. However, He was head of a failed hospital and was a high paid executive at Midway and can’t really say that was lies. But I don’t put much faith in an ad where the wifey is there looking all pitiful for her loving hubby that is being attacked, especially when he and his party have been attacking everyone also.

    Truthfully, I never say a personal ad from any of the candidates. Perhaps they should all learn a less and stop letting those PAC group run ads for you.

  • Cumberland Gap wrote on June 27, 2013 10:42 AM :

    This landslide win by the Democrat shows that the Republican leaders style and message is very negative, downright mean, and ugly. But if you only try to appeal to people’s negativism, fear, and paranoia like many Republicans leaders do, it will attract only a minority. Many people are beginning to see through this “I want limited government and spending for everyone else (but me)” train of thought. Sen. Rand Paul’s Bowling Green area is a huge recipient of government spending, especially new and expanded roads.

  • Mike wrote on June 27, 2013 05:54 PM :

    2 more progressive candidates defeat the Republican 66 to 34 percent; and then the Republicans claim it’s not because they have bad ideas but because of some mysterious other reason.

    someday perhaps Republicans will get a clue and start to actually try to serve people.

  • Dee W. wrote on June 30, 2013 07:44 PM :

    Seriously Cumberland Gap…44% is not a landslide win…it isn’t even a majority of the vote. Solid, yes, but not a landslide. The whole point of the article was the reaction to the volume of mail that was outlined in the door to door campaigning re: the activity by outside groups, which apparently you did not read. That was not done by either the party or the candidate. You are correct to a degree over frustration with politicians saying one thing but doing another, but that has nothing to do with political philosophy itself…it does however damage your brand if you don’t do what you are saying you are going to do…and it can be said your philosophy doesn’t work by virtue of you being in office (even if it is never actually attempted).

    Mike – right – so the whole issue was that Kentuckians support a far left-wing aka “progressive” agenda and that is why the Republican lost. Right. That’s why the Democrats are always denying they are progressives/socialists and are conservatives in Kentucky, and why Republicans have been on the ascendancy in this state for a number of years now. But for the massive gerrymandering that is sure to come out of the House, they’d probably lose control of it within 2 more election cycles. This Democrat wasn’t running on a “progressive” agenda, either.

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