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:

(TAKING INDEPENDENT HACK OUT OF THE RESULTS)
…………………….. 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 is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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