Top 10 Kentucky state House Races -- September edition

09/14/2014 08:15 AM

The House races remain in shadows of this election season nearly two weeks past Labor Day as candidates hold their money for the final weeks. These contests have been overpowered so far by the massiveness of the U.S. Senate race machines.

But that doesn’t diminish the stakes: control of a legislative chamber in which Democrats hold their narrowest margin in decades with 54 seats to the Republicans’ 46.

And good candidates have been wearing out their shoe leather, going door-to-door and drumming up endorsements and campaign funds.

So it could get loud soon in some of these districts. By the second week in October, the public will see the campaign finance reports that will show how well — or poorly — the candidates have fundraised and how the political party organizations are deploying their resources.

In the meantime, here’s the latest snapshot of the 10 races, which at the moment, look to be the most compelling races to watch (rankings from the previous edition in July are in parenthesis):

1. (2) The 13th District, Democratic-held seat:
Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro vs. Alan Braden, Republican from Owensboro

The road to the House Speaker’s chair for Republican Leader Jeff Hoover would have to run through Owensboro. For Republicans to win control, they must win this race in an area that’s been leaning more to the right and in a district Rep. Jim Glenn has won by 251 votes in 2012 and 206 votes in 2010. But Braden, a financial analyst and former Owensboro city commissioner, might need the extra force of a Republican wave to unseat the hardworking Glenn, who has reserved TV airtime for the first time.

2. (NR) The 39th District, open seat:
Democrat Russ Meyer vs. Republican Jonah Mitchell, both of Nicholasville

Democrats and Republicans are circling this one as the most competitive open seat race, covering much of Jessamine County – minus the Wilmore area —- and a few southern Fayette County precincts. Jessamine County has become one of the most conservative in Central Kentucky, which normally would favor Mitchell, a real estate agent and landlord. But Russ Meyer has been a popular mayor of Nicholasville. Plus, the previous occupant of the seat, Rep. Bob Damron, who is running for judge-executive, conditioned voters to voting for a Democrat for this spot. Meyer has raised about $83,000 through the primary season compared to about $30,000 for Mitchell.

3. (7) The 6th District, Democratic-held seat:
Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, vs. Keith Travis, Republican from Benton

The race is still Coursey’s to lose. But his legal fight keeps making the race more interesting. In fact, as a rule in politics, it’s generally a bad thing to be linked in news coverage to genitalia. Travis hasn’t indicated whether or how he might use all this. (Coursey is in dueling lawsuits with a former LRC staffer who claimed she was improperly transferred after complaining about inappropriate comments she attributed to Coursey.) One other note: Coursey is an incumbent on the ballot between two longtime incumbents – U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Judge-Executive Mike Miller – who have been in office for 30 and 40 years, respectively. With McConnell and Miller’s challengers saying they’ve been in office too long, Coursey must hope that Marshall County voters don’t get swept up in an anti-incumbency mood.

4. (4) The 3rd District, Democratic-held seat:
Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, vs. Randy Bridges, Republican from Paducah

This one could end up giving Democrats more heartburn on Election Night than Coursey’s race. Watkins is running for re-election for the first time in this Paducah-centric district and is probably the Western Kentucky Democratic representative who is most vulnerable to a Republican wave. It’s tough to conceive a scenario in which Republicans reach 50 seats without Bridges unseating Watkins. This is a must-win for the GOP to have shot.

5. (3) The 55th District, Republican-held seat:
Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, vs. Jacqueline Coleman, Democrat from Nicholasville

This race has come to typify the Democrats’ aggressive candidate recruiting effort that will keep Republicans playing defense for their incumbents across the state. As outlined in the first two installments of the Top 10 House races list, Coleman brings a resume, deep roots to the district and a work ethic to match King’s. The question is whether any Democrat can win in the conservative district that covers increasingly Republican Mercer County, very conservative western Jessamine County and Washington County.

6. (1) The 49th District, open seat:
Mike Nemes, Republican, vs. Linda Belcher, Democrat — both from Shepherdsville

Just because the race between two former representatives hasn’t stirred up controversy or made many headlines doesn’t mean it’s not important. Both parties want to capture this open seat in the heart of Bullitt County. But Republicans need it more if they want to get within sniffing distance of taking control of the chamber. Both candidates have been working the district. Nemes might be slightly more aggressive in campaigning, but Belcher has deeper roots in the community.

7. (NR) The 62nd District, Republican-held seat:
Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, vs. Chuck Tackett, Democrat from Georgetown

Back in Central Kentucky, Quarles has been reaching out to the new parts of this district – Owen County and part of northern Fayette County – which were added in the 2013 redistricting process. Tackett, meanwhile, is a Scott County magistrate, who is looking to capitalize on Beshear’s strong popularity numbers. Quarles isn’t likely to get surprised in the race. He raised more than $65,000 through the primary season and has kept on raising money. Tackett brought in about $40,000 during primary season.

8. (9) The 91st District, Republican-held seat:
Rep. Toby Herald, R-Beattyville, vs. Cluster Howard, Democrat from Jackson

The 91st District in eastern Madison County, Estill, Lee, Owsley and Breathitt counties is a sleeper race, mostly because it’s tough to tell from the outside whether Herald and Howard are awake. Neither has raised much money. Herald had more than $6,000 two months after the primary and Howard had $760. Democrats have pegged Herald, who had a low profile in his first term, as one of the most vulnerable Republicans. But the district is east of I-75, making it tough terrain for any Democrat because of President Barack Obama’s unpopularity there.

9. (NR) The 53rd District, open seat
James Tipton, Republican from Taylorsville, vs. Kent Stevens, Democrat from Lawrenceburg

Like the 49th District, this is another new seat created by redistricting. It covers Spencer and Anderson counties and small bit of Bullitt County. Unnopposed in the Republican primary, James Tipton, a realtor, got a head start in campaigning as a Frankfort outsider. Stevens, a retired school principal running for his fifth time for state representative, served one term in Frankfort. This spring, he won a competitive Democratic primary, largely by virtue of his residual name recognition.

10. (6) The 32nd District, open seat:
Phil Moffett, Republican, vs. Ashley Miller, Democrat — both from Louisville

On paper, this might be the most unusual match-up this fall: Businessman and former upstart GOP gubernatorial candidate with tea party connections versus a nurse practitioner who has worked at Planned Parenthood and is a former Miss Kentucky making her first run for political office. But it’s still a conservative district that’s been represented by Republicans for years. Both parties look as if they’ll take this race seriously, but it’s a tough district for any Democrat to win. If Miller does win, it will be a rough Election Night for House Republicans.

Squeezed out of the Top 10 because there’s only room for, well, 10:

The 50th House District, Republican-held seat:
Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, vs. Audrey Haydon, Democrat from Bardstown (Previously 8)

The 78th House District, Democratic-held seat:
 Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, vs. Mark Hart (Previously 5)

The 10th House District, open seat: Alan Claypool, Republican, vs. Dean Schamore, Democrat (Previously 10)


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.