Why local Republican primary races matter to Mitch McConnell

02/16/2014 07:50 PM

In 2010, one out of every two registered Republicans in the heart of southern Kentucky’s “Old 5th” congressional district came out to vote.

A contiguous bloc of 14 counties in southern Kentucky boasted the most fertile and efficient ground for gathering Republican votes in that year’s primary. Those counties (see chart below) had slightly fewer registered Republicans than the 157,000 in Jefferson County, the state’s largest county. The 14-county region has less than half the population of Jefferson County.

Yet, it turned out 78,200 Republicans in that spring’s primary compared to 50,449 in Jefferson County.

A big reason: scores of local Republican primaries for county and city races that ginned up enough excitement and interest to motivate half of the number of registered Republicans to get out and vote.

Conditions are similar this spring in which many voters’ friends and neighbors are on the ballot for positions like county clerk, sheriff, magistrate, judge-executive and district judge in those counties — along with the U.S. Senate.

So Republican voters in the old 5th can expect to see a lot of material from the U.S. Senate candidates, particularly U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has been known for a carefully calculated election plan.

Perhaps no where is the crowded ballot most represented than the 16th state Senate District, which features seven counties in the heart of the Old 5th (Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor and Wayne). That Republican primary for state Senate between Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, and Campbellsville University professor Max Wise is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in Kentucky this spring.

Four years ago, more than half — 26,691 — of the 49,940 Republicans came out to vote in the primary in those seven counties. And again this spring, those seven feature competitive primaries up and down the ballot:

  • Five Republicans are running in the Adair County clerk’s primary, another five for jailer and three for sheriff.
  • Three Republicans are challenging first-term McCreary County Judge-Executive Douglas Stephens, while seven Republicans are running for jailer.
  • Another first-term judge-executive, Cumberland County’s John A. Phelps Jr., faces three opponents and a total of 14 Republicans are running in primaries for the four magistrate positions.
  • Similarly in Clinton County, three Republicans are trying to unseat Judge-Executive Lyle Huff, eight Republicans are running for jailer and five of the six magistrate districts have contested Republican primaries.
  • In Russell County, 16 Republicans are running for constable and seven want to be sheriff.
  • Taylor County features the fewest primaries in the district with contests in three of the six constable races, two of the magistrate races and two candidates seeking the nomination for jailer.
  • Wayne County boasts primaries for sheriff, jailer and PVA.

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