What starts as the Super Bowl of Ky. primaries? The top 10 to watch

02/02/2014 09:25 PM

The May 20 primaries are set. Both parties have primaries for U.S. Senate, and the Democrats have four primaries for congressional races (1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th Districts). In the legislature, a half -dozen primaries are brewing for state Senate seats, and the House features 25 primaries across two dozen districts.

Here are the first 10 to watch:

10. 52nd House District, Republicans: Rep. Ken Upchurch vs. Jessica Burke

This southern Kentucky House district that covers Wayne and McCreary counties and a sliver of Pulaski County, features a veteran lawmaker against a newcomer from the other half of the district. Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, returned to the state House last year after Sara Beth Gregory won the special election for the 16th state Senate District. Upchurch held the seat from 1999 through 2010 until deciding to run for Wayne County judge-executive. He lost that race to Democrat Greg Rankin – a surprising upset in a county with 8,430 Republicans to 5,159 Democrats. Jessica Burke hails from McCreary County, and while she is running in her first race, the 2001 McCreary County High School graduate does come with a political pedigree. She worked for the state Senate Republicans in 2012, including with then-Judiciary Chairman Tom Jensen of London. And she worked on an amicus brief for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul on the Affordable Care Act.

9. 89th House District, Republicans: Rep. Marie Rader vs. Michael Bryant vs. Gerardo Serrano

Rep. Marie Rader, R-McKee, has drawn a primary challenge in four of the last five elections in the 89th District, which covers Jackson County, southern Madison County and northern Laurel County. She has won the nomination with at least 55 percent of the vote each time. But the district has changed. The 89th lost Owsley County, where Rader fared well. And it picked up precincts in southern Madison County. She faces two primary opponents: Gerardo Serrano, who like Rader hails from Jackson County, and Michael Bryant of London.

8. 18th House District, Republicans: Rep. Tim Moore vs. Stephen Meredith vs. Craig Davis

Few incumbents had their districts changed more than Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown. Moore used to live in the center of a compact district in northern Hardin County. The new 18th District now snakes from Moore’s house through Hardin County and picks up all of Grayson County. So Moore faces two Leitchfield Republicans – Craig Davis, a retired farmer and small businessman, and Stephen Meredith, a retired CEO of Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center.

7. 77th House District, Democratic: George Brown Jr. vs. Michael Haskins

For more than two decades, the 77th District in Lexington was a lock. It was Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw’s district. With Crenshaw retiring, he has thrown his support behind J. Michael Haskins, a Fayette County magistrate. But former Lexington Urban County Councilman George Brown Jr. brings a well-known name into the primary. It’s going to get interesting in downtown Lexington.

6. 53rd House District, Democratic: Donna Drury vs. Stewart Gritton vs. Kent Stevens

This is one of the newly-created open districts thanks to last year’s redistricting. It covers Anderson and Spencer County and two precincts in northeastern Bullitt County. And the three Lawrenceburg Democrats vying for that party’s nomination bring some strong political resumes:

  • Kent Stevens, a former school principal, served one term in the House from 2009-10, but overall, he has won once and lost three times in the last four elections in state House races.
  • Donna Drury, is one of the Democratic candidates to be trained through the Emerge Kentucky program. An Anderson County Board of education member, Drury ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Anderson County judge-executive in 2010.
  • Stewart Gritton, a longtime employee of the state Agriculture Department, ran for the Democratic nomination for ag commissioner in 2011. Gritton finished fourth in a five-way race with more than 16 percent of the vote but did get endorsements from several state lawmakers and a former congressman.

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

This is the most competitive primary for an open state Senate seat in Kentucky, as three well-known Republicans battle for the nomination to replace state Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine of Southgate. The 24th District covers Campbell, Pendleton and Bracken counties.

  • Wil Schroder II is an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Campbell County and son of the late state Supreme Court Justice Wil Schroder.
  • Deb Sheldon is a former pastor from Alexandria who has been active in the Northern Kentucky Tea Party.
  • And Brandon Voelker, a well-known Northern Kentucky attorney, most famously represented citizens who sued over the funding of libraries.

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

It would be too easy to describe this primary as establishment versus tea party. While Phil Moffett tapped tea party support in his 2011 run for governor, he has focused mostly on talking about issues like shoring up the state’s pension fund and pushing for charter schools since then. He probably starts with more name recognition. But Shellie May has strong ties to many Jefferson County Republican activists by virtue of serving as the party’s county chairman for four years. The 32nd state House race is an open seat because incumbent Rep. Julie Raque Adams is running for the state Senate.

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

It would be even easier to rank the Republican primary for U.S. Senate as the biggest in Kentucky. But at this point, it’s not competitive enough. Louisville businessman Matt Bevin has proven he can fundraise, getting help from national tea party networks. He has been travelling the state talking to tea party and GOP groups. But he has yet to launch a message aimed at the Republican base to convince them to go against the veteran U.S. Senator who has helped build up the modern Kentucky Republican Party. So far Bevin’s two main messages – that McConnell has been in office too long and that Bevin would be tougher for Alison Lundergan Grimes to beat – seem to help Grimes more than Bevin at this point. (Three other Republicans, James Bradley Copas of Lexington, Chris Payne of Salvisa, and Shawna Sterling of Sharpsburg also have filed).

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

Few incumbents have given more fodder to prospective opponents than Rep. W. Keith Hall of Phelps. Over the years, Hall has been slapped with a fine from the Legislative Ethics Commission for steering state funding to a project for which one of his companies had a contract. And Hall, who also runs a coal company, most recently admitted to being hit up for kick-backs by a mine inspector. Hall is running in a newly drawn district, in which the Pike County portion incorporates much of district that Pike County Magistrate Chris Harris represents. Plus the addition of Martin County, which Hall hasn’t before represented, gives this race a wide-open feel.

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

Regardless of the final outcome, this race so far has created the most awkwardness in Frankfort and has the potential to cause the hardest feelings once it’s over. Taylor County Republicans are going all in for Max Wise, the Campbellsville University professor and former FBI analyst. They want a state senator from their end of the 16th District, which covers Taylor, Adair, Russell, Clinton, Cumberland, Wayne and McCreary counties. That could have a ripple effect among GOP circles, especially considering House Republican Whip Bam Carney is a Taylor County Republican. Meanwhile, many incumbent Senate Republicans are rallying for Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello. But she’s only represented half of the current district for a little over a year.


Subscribe to email updates.

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