The primary five: The races to watch for when results come in on May 20

05/11/2014 11:03 PM

Kentucky’s primary elections that are just eight days away feature only a handful of truly captivating races with statewide interest.

Here’s an update on those five races — the same five from the list in January just with a different order and a new number one. (Previous ranking in parenthesis).

1. (2) 93rd House District, Democrats: Rep. W. Keith Hall vs. Chris Harris

The race, quite simply, has been even more brutal than first advertised. Both have been buying commercial time on WYMT in Hazard and local cable in Pike and Martin counties — and not to say nice things about each other.

Harris, the Pike County magistrate, aired an ad last week that describes Hall as “the most corrupt legislator” in Kentucky, then lists 15 newspaper headlines about Hall’s ethics cases and business dealings. (See below)

Hall has tried to link Harris to President Barack Obama in the Democratic primary in the heart of coal country.

Harris has outraised Hall, but Hall still has powerful allies in the district who have helped him raise money since the last fundraising support.

2. (1) 16th State Senate District, Republicans: Sen. Sara Beth Gregory vs. Max Wise

It’s not that this race has been less interesting than anticipated. It’s was just surpassed by the intensity of the 93rd. If you’re looking for a sign of just how tight the race is, the $1,000 donation Russell Springs businessman Terry Stephens gave to each of them is a pretty good start. Gregory has locked up strong support in her end of the district, Wayne and McCreary counties, while Wise has dominated in Taylor County. And both have been working the middle counties heavily.

It’s also gotten harsh. Wise has hit Gregory, a trial attorney, on walking out of the Senate instead of voting on a bill that would have created medical review panels in malpractice suits against nursing homes. (Gregory responded that she felt it was most ethical to skip that vote because it affects her profession).

Gregory has touted her endorsement from the NRA and pointed out that Wise, a professor at Campbellsville University, failed to get an “A” rating from the group. (Wise says that’s because he doesn’t agree that guns should be allowed in college buildings).

Here’s a clip from their debate last week in Russell Springs:

3. (5) 24th State Senate District, Republicans: Wil Schroder II vs. Deb Sheldon vs. Brandon Voelker

In the race to replace retiring Sen. Katie Stine, Wil Schroder, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Campbell County, has emerged as the candidate to beat in the race. He has broad and big-name support from Northern Kentucky donors, including former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, and has out-raised the other two candidates combined through their 32-day pre-primary fundraising reports. He also has a familiar name to voters in the 24th District covers Campbell, Pendleton and Bracken counties. He is the son of former state Supreme Court Justice Wil Schroder, who died last year.

Deb Sheldon of Alexandria, meanwhile, has been aggressive but also made some controversial decisions. For instance, she unsuccessfully challenged a state law that blocks the release of the list of voters who request absentee ballots. And she filed her campaign finance report more than a week late.

Brandon Voelker, a well-known Northern Kentucky attorney from a well-known political family in the southern part of Campbell County, is relying on existing name recognition and connections rather than raising a lot money from others to bolster his name ID.

4. (4) 32nd House District, Republicans: Shellie May vs. Phil Moffett

Perhaps more than any other on this list, this race in east Jefferson County will be won on the doorsteps of voters. Moffett, the former candidate for governor, has been going door-to-door for more than two months. May, the former Jefferson County Republican Party chairwoman, has been doing the same thing, although she resumed her door-to-door efforts this spring two weeks after Moffett. Neither has raised the type of money to do much more than a shoe leather and direct mail campaign. May has declined multiple offers to appear in a forum with Moffett, as Bob Heleringer described in his column last week. The race may come down to residual name recognition for Moffett from his 2011 run for governor and May’s connections to elected officials, activists and volunteers in the district.

5. (3) U.S. Senate, Republicans: U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell vs. Matt Bevin vs. 3 others

Bevin’s recent stumbles, particularly over his answers about attending a cockfighting rally, have made his long odds of knocking off the Senate Republican leader even longer. Bevin still has deep support from many tea party activists and Republicans who have grown tired of McConnell. But elections are won on breadth of support. The political parlor game now is what percentage of votes Bevin will get and what that portends for McConnell’s chances in the fall. Many Republicans say 33 percent is the magic number and that if Bevin cracks that threshold, McConnell will be hard-pressed to win enough disgruntled Republicans back and win over enough conservative Democrats from a unified and excited Democratic base not seen for a federal race in many years.

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