Updated House Race Briefing: Attention shifts to western Ky. toss up races

10/31/2012 09:29 PM

Republicans have set the expectations level high with their claims that they could take control of the state House this fall.

But based on the Democrats going on the offense against a trio of freshman Republican incumbents and several others, a GOP net gain of the 10 seats needed is still a long shot.

Still, a net gain of four seats or more would give Republicans a new high water mark since before World War II.

And as races tighten across the state, Republicans are finding more favorable conditions in places they didn’t expect to compete a couple months ago, such as in Lexington against a pair of entrenched incumbents.

There has been some movement in many of the races over the last nine days since the first Pure Politics House Race Briefing.

Here are 25 key races broken down by categories: “toss ups,” “tilt Democratic,” “tilt Republican,” “lean Democratic,” “lean Republican” and “likely Democratic” and “likely Republican.”

TOSS UPS:

2nd Dist. (Graves Co., part of McCracken Co.) vacant seat, formerly Democratic
Two weeks ago, Republican Richard Heath had the inside track, but Democrat Kelly Whitaker quickly responded to GOP efforts to tie her to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the district. Both parties are very involved in the race.
Whitaker (D): $78,063
Heath (R ): $40,075

4th Dist. (Caldwell, Crittenden and Livington Cos. and part of McCracken Co.) open seat to replace Democrat Mike Cherry
Both parties have said for weeks that they’re confident they’ll win this district, but Republicans seem to have momentum here. Still, Democratic voters, who are the majority in this district, have proven to be fiercely loyal to local Democratic candidates, which is the best thing Raymond Giannini has going for him. And while he has an unusual name (it’s pronounced Gin-nine-uh), the family has been in the area for several generations — a fact Democrats are seeking to contrast with Republican Lynn Bechler, who moved 15 years ago from St. Louis.
Giannini (D): $68,327
Bechler (R ): $35,574

5th Dist. (Calloway Co., part of Trigg Co.) open seat to replace Democrat Melvin Henley
While this race is still a toss-up, the momentum appears to be with Republican Kenny Imes. Republicans have hit Democrat Hal Kemp and sought to link him to the national Democratic Party. But unlike Whitaker, Kemp has declined to hit back, instead choosing to avoid any hint of negativity. He, however, risks being defined by his opponents.
Kemp (D): $46,263
Imes (R ): $66,486

7th Dist. (Union Co., part of Daviess and Henderson Cos.) Democratic seat
Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, will still run strong in Union County, whose voters make up about 38 percent of the district. Republican Tim Kline hails from the Daviess County part of the district, which has been trending more conservative. The wild card will be the voters in Henderson County, where neither candidate has a particularly strong base.
Arnold (D): $51,147
Kline (R ): $82,074

13th Dist. (Owensboro) Democratic seat
This race also remains a toss-up. Democratic Rep. Jim Glenn has been campaigning hard but is facing stiff Republican head-winds. The question is whether voters who pull a straight Republican ticket will make the extra effort to vote for Glenn’s opponent, independent candidate Bill Barron, a successful commercial real estate developer.
Glenn (D): $118,685
Barron (I): $73,783

49th Dist. (North Bullitt Co.) Democratic seat
Because of the swing nature of the district, Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville joins Glenn among the Democrats’ most endangered incumbents list. Republican candidate Russell Webber, who lost to Belcher by 101 votes in 2010, has touted his high-profile support from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul among others, who have helped him raise five times as much money as he did two years ago.
Belcher (D): $82,381
Webber (R ): $35,597

62nd Dist. (Scott Co. and part of Fayette Co.) Republican seat
In this rematch, Democrat Charlie Hoffman has worked himself into a close race. Democrats now see Republican Rep. Ryan Quarles, who narrowly defeated Hoffman 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent in 2010, as beatable.
Quarles (R ): $60,857
Hoffman (D): $59,710

73rd Dist. (Clark Co. and part of Madison Co.) Republican seat
Rep. Donna Mayfield joins Quarles and Rep. Mike Nemes of Louisville in a trio of the most vulnerable House Republican freshman. Democrats have criticized Mayfield for voting against a bill aimed at curbing pill abuse. And Mayfield has sought to brand her Democratic challenger, JoEllen Reed, a Clark County commissioner who works at the Winchester campus of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College, as a “liberal career politician,” according to the Richmond Register.
Mayfield (R ): $38,652
Reed (D): $100,806

TILTS DEMOCRATIC:

*38th Dist. *(South Louisville) Republican seat
It’s a race that is on the cusp of getting away from Republican Rep. Mike Nemes through no fault of his own. Nemes, a fierce campaigner, has positioned himself as a moderate Republican in a Democratic majority district. But Nemes faces a familiar name — Democrat Denny Butler, the son of the late longtime representative, Denver Butler. And Louisville is one of the few areas in the state where the presidential race won’t benefit Republicans.
Nemes (R ): $28,359
Butler (D): $76,969

76th Dist. (North Lexington) Democratic seat
This race didn’t make last week’s list. But GOP internal poll numbers show the race between Democratic Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo and Republican Richard Marrs to be moving in a good direction for Marrs. Palumbo has been in this spot before, waiting until just before the election to spend campaign cash and remind voters who she is. The presidential race won’t help Marrs in this district like it will Republicans elsewhere. And despite running against Palumbo two years ago, Marrs doesn’t have the familiar name Palumbo does.
Palumbo (D): $47,947
Marrs (R ): $44,907

TILTS REPUBLICAN:

50th Dist. (Nelson Co. and parts of Bullitt and Spencer Cos.) Republican seat
This race keeps moving toward toss-up status. Democrats have targeted four-term Republican Rep. David Floyd. And Republicans have hit back. They successfully convinced radio stations earlier this week to drop ads by the Kentucky Democratic Party that claimed without documentation that Floyd had outstanding taxes. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Dick Heaton, a car dealership owner and former Bardstown mayor, has organized an extensive ground game. A flood of money on both sides over the last two weeks underscores the competitiveness of the race.
Floyd (R ): $56,613
Heaton (D): $126,262

LEANS DEMOCRATIC:

3rd Dist. (Paducah) open seat to replace Republican Brent Housman
Republicans’ best hope to keep the seat is for the powerful anti-Obama sentiment to carry Jason Crockett, a radio station manager, to victory. But Democrats have spent heavily to make sure the seat goes to Democrat Gerald Watkins, a political science professor and Paducah city commissioner.
Watkins (D): $68,386
Crockett (R ): $95,425

24th Dist. (Marion and Casey and part of Pulaski Cos.) Democratic seat
Democratic Rep. Terry Mills has done everything he needed to do to keep a seat in a Republican area. Republican candidate Bill Pickerill has not. Pickerill engaged in the race too late, and it appears the heavily Republican areas of Casey County and part of Pulaski County won’t be enough to propel him past the well-liked incumbent.
Mills (D): $86,303
Pickerill (R ): $8,300

27th Dist. (Meade and parts of Bullitt and Hardin Cos.) Democratic seat
Republicans would need to unseat someone like Democratic Rep. Jeff Greer to take control of the House. He beat Republican Dalton Jantzen by 128 votes last time but has been more engaged in the race this time.
Greer (D): $135,096
Jantzen (R ): $37,956

31st Dist. (Jeffersontown and Hikes Point areas in Louisville) Democratic seat
Democratic Rep. Steve Riggs is taking nothing for granted against well-funded Nick Simon, owner of Publishers Printing. The district’s voters know Riggs well, having picked him every time since 1990.
Riggs (D): $107,975
Simon (R ): $52,983

79th Dist. (Lexington) Democratic seat
Just about every election, Republicans get their hopes up that they can defeat Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom. Each time, Westrom wins solidly, whether it’s against a moderate or conservative opponent. This time she faces Chris Logan, a minister and two-time candidate for urban county council. But Republicans clearly see an opening here, which is why they’re investing in the race — and why Democrats are rushing to defend Westrom.
Westrom (D): $94,025
Logan (R ): $45,703

LEANS REPUBLICAN

54th Dist. (Washington and Boyle Cos.) Republican seat
Other Republican incumbents appear to be more vulnerable than Rep. Mike Harmon of Boyle County. That has prompted both parties to divert their resources to those races. Harmon faces Barry Harmon, the Boyle County jailer – no relation.
Mike Harmon (R ): $20,841
Barry Harmon (D): $49,122

61st Dist. (Grant, Owen and Gallatin Cos.) open seat to replace Democrat Royce Adams
Republican Brian Linder, a Grant County magistrate, should benefit from the coattail effect of the races for president, Congress and state Senator. Democrat Wanda Crupper Hammons, an EMT and daughter of Dry Ridge Mayor Clay Crupper, is trying to keep Grant County from being represented in the House for the first time ever.
Linder (R ): $38,846
Hammons (D): $63,249

88th Dist. (Southern Fayette Co.) open seat to replace Republican Bill Farmer
Republican Robert Benvenuti, a lawyer and former inspector general of the state’s health cabinet, has run a solid, if unremarkable, race for this seat in a Republican-performing district. While Democrat Reginald Thomas has done everything a Democrat could to make it competitive, it’s not the best district in Fayette County for an outspoken supporter of Obama like Thomas, who was a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Benvenuti (R ): $57,205
Thomas (D): $67,215

LIKELY DEMOCRATIC:

16th Dist. (Logan and Todd Cos.) Democratic seat
Democratic Rep. Martha Jane King has positioned herself as a conservative western Kentucky Democrat during her four years in the House. Republican Chris Hightower has been a proponent of the tea party and has made fiscal issues the centerpiece of his campaign. But King will be tough to unseat.
King (D): $56,927
Hightower (R ): $86,802

20th Dist. (Bowling Green) Democratic seat
This is Democratic Rep. Jody Richards’ first contested campaign since 1990. But as the longest serving House Speaker in Kentucky history (from 1995-2009), he knows not to take anything for granted. He has been campaigning hard and running on some of the education reforms passed during his 36 years in the House. Republican Regina Webb, who owns a hair salon and spa, has run aggressive TV ads calling Richards one of the leaders who got Kentucky into problems with the state employee pension system’s financial security.
Richards (D): $169,322
Webb (R ): $47,790

67th Dist. (Campbell County) Democratic seat
Rep. Dennis Keene, a Democrat from Wilder, has had his share of feuds with fellow Northern Kentucky lawmakers, such as Republican Sen. Katie Stine, who called out Keene for helping get state money for projects that his employer, Southbank Partners, has an interest in, as the Northern Kentucky Enquirer mentioned. Plus, Keene and Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson clashed over the attempted redrawing of their districts. But Keene is still an overwhelming favorite to win a fifth term against Republican Adam Haas, who has run a more limited campaign than Keene.
Keene (D): $64,461
Haas (R ): $37,433

91st Dist. (Breathitt, Estill and Lee Cos.) Democratic seat
Democratic Rep. Teddy Edmonds of Jackson has represented the Eastern Kentucky district since 2003. Registered Democrats out-number Republicans 16,535 to 9,424. But the district is in the heart of Obama-is-unpopular-land. Among Democrats who voted in the presidential primary, “uncommitted” got 62 percent compared to 38 percent for President Obama, which is bolstering Republicans’ optimism in their poll numbers that show the race as winable. But operatives in Eastern Kentucky — even Republicans — haven’t seen or heard much out of Republican candidate Gary Wayne Herald of Beattyville, making this a test of whether a candidate’s work ethic or the political atmosphere has more sway in a House race.
Edmonds (D) $36,372
Herald (R ) $14,650

LIKELY REPUBLICAN

36th Dist. (Garrard and pt. of Madison Cos.) open seat to replace Republican Lonnie Napier
Of the contested open seats, this one is the safest for the GOP. Republican Jonathan Shell, a 24-year-old farmer, proved his work ethic in the primary by beating Napier’s preferred candidate. Democratic candidate Bradley “Bud” Montgomery, who owns Montgomery Farm and Gardens in Berea, faces an uphill battle in a GOP-performing district.
Shell (R ): $47,436
Montgomery (D): $31,423

55th Dist. (Mercer and Anderson Cos. and part of Spencer) Republican seat
This is rematch of 2010 featuring former Democratic Rep. Kent Stevens and freshman Republican Kim King of Harrodsburg. King outworked Stevens, a retired principal from Lawrenceburg, two years ago. And all things being equal, the Mercer County candidate has generally had the advantage over an Anderson County candidate in most general elections for this seat.
King (R ): $36,656
Stevens (D): $53,822

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