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March 21, 2006

Bluegrass Politics: 2007: The Year of the Democratic Women?

As the pundits and political insiders begin their quadrennial exercise, handicapping the field of potential statewide candidates for 2007, several Democratic women have quietly moved to the top of the lists. That’s a sharp contrast to the overwhelmingly male-dominated structure that currently resides in the bowels of Kentucky Democratic Party leadership.At the top of the ticket, Auditor Crit Luallen has emerged as a top-tier Democratic contender to replace Gov. Ernie Fletcher next year. She would be only Kentucky’s second female governor (Martha Layne Collins was the first).In The Courier-Journal on Sunday, political commentator Al Cross noted that Luallen has already begun articulating a winning theme, citing her work for six governors as proof that, “I’ve seen what works in Frankfort and what doesn’t work,” and that voters should insist on “competence, integrity and vision” from the next governor. Given the tenures of the past two occupants, that’s a message that should resonate with voters.Beyond her experience, one would expect Luallen, the only woman in a field of men, to garner a disproportionate number of female voters. That would be especially helpful given that Democratic women voters turn out in much greater numbers than their male counterparts.Louisville attorney Jennifer Moore is Democratic star in the making. The 30-something legal eagle was key in the Dana Seum Stephenson-Virginia Woodward election dispute, repelling attempts by Republican Senate leaders to seat an unqualified candidate. That’s caused her stock to soar over the past year, and she’s quickly become a favorite of many in Democratic Party circles.The Paducah native, whose personal touch is as impressive as her intellect, is seen as an obvious successor to Luallen as state auditor. While Moore doesn’t display an over-eagerness to run for office, the smart money says Kentucky will see this budding superstar’s debut next year.Audrey Haynes, a former top aide to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, is another Democratic woman to keep a close eye on. She’s currently national director for Government Relations and Policy for the YMCA (she commutes to work in D.C. every week from her Louisville home), and she’s been encouraged to take on Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson next year. Haynes’ work with the Gores, and her involvement in the Florida recount, would provide context and credibility for running as a reform candidate, and her national connections would provide a strong fund-raising base. Also, many wonder if Fletcher’s political free-fall might accelerate Grayson’s ascent within his own party. Grayson may find himself as a running mate at the top of the ticket next year.Northern Kentucky’s Kathy Groob is another rising star in Democratic circles and one with the talent to seek any office in the state. A former Republican, Groob lost a close race to incumbent Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Crescent Springs, in 2004, at a time when President Bush won Kenton County by a 2-1 margin. She has since become a prominent Democratic leader and was a driving force behind former Democratic Rep. Ken Lucas’s decision to come out of retirement this year to seek his old congressional seat.Groob would make a stellar running mate in 2007, providing gender and geographical advantages along with political savvy and charm. Others view her as a future congressional candidate.  Democrats are excited about her future.Bowling Green’s Kerry Morgan is another young Democratic star. A Henderson who graduated from both EKU and NKU, Morgan served as vice chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party through the 2004 elections before returning to her legal practice and starting a family with husband Shannon. While 2007 might prove too optimistic for Morgan’s emergence as a candidate, she can count Ben Chandler and Luallen as two of her biggest fans. There’s little doubt about her career trajectory.Finally, state Reps. Joni Jenkins, Robin Webb and Tanya Pullin are three Democratic legislators who many believe have the talent and aspirations for higher office. Louisville’s Jenkins was recently named vice chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, an ideal platform to be better known by activists around the state, and both Webb and Pullin have seen their profiles rise this legislative session.So, while most of the noise coming out of Frankfort these days is made by the men, keep a close eye on these Democratic women. And don’t be surprised if you find them populating your ballot on Nov. 6, 2007, and beyond. Mark Nickolas is a former Democratic political consultant and publisher the blog BluegrassReport.org. Contact him at Mark@BluegrassReport.org