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September 5, 2006

Bluegrass Politics: Election 2006 - the long road to the finish line

With just 62 days until the November election, campaigns around the state are in full gear for the stretch drive, which traditionally kicks off on Labor Day. With dismal job ratings plaguing both President Bush and Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Democrats are upbeat about their chances across the board while Republicans are playing defense. That means voters will have plenty on their plate come Nov. 7.

CONGRESS: Nationally, Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives, and according to top political commentators, the likelihood of that seems to be growing by the day. Nowhere is the political ground more fertile than right here in the usually conservative Ohio River Valley, where an amazing eight Republican-held seats appear to be in play, including three in Kentucky alone.

Without a doubt, the state’s marquee race is in Northern Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District, where former Rep. Ken Lucas (D) has come out of retirement in hopes of wresting his old seat from Rep. Geoff Davis (R), whom Lucas defeated in 2002. All but one poll shows Lucas with a solid lead, but one can only expect the race to tighten in this conservative district.

In Louisville’s 3rd Congressional District, LEO founder John Yarmuth (D) is hoping to knock off five-term incumbent Rep. Anne Northup (R) in a Democratic-leaning district that voted for Al Gore and John Kerry. A Yarmuth poll showed the race a dead heat, while word is that recent polling done by Mayor Jerry Abramson showed a significant Yarmuth lead. But with Northup’s strong financial advantage and her success in trench campaign warfare, first-time candidate Yarmuth will have his work cut out for him. Still, opportunity among an angry electorate clearly exists.

The 2nd Congressional District finds six-term incumbent Rep. Ron Lewis (R) in a fight for the seat he won in an enormous upset during the 1994 wave that swept Republicans into power. Ironically, Democrats hope a similar uprising this year finds State Rep. Mike Weaver (D) in the seat occupied for 41 years by Democrat William Natcher.

STATE LEGISLATURE: House Democrats head into this election likely to stem further losses to their 56-44 majority, which went as high as 66-34 in 2001. Thanks to strong recruiting and decent fundraising, Democrats are poised to expand their majority by as many as six seats.

In southwest Louisville, Tim Firkins (D) is in strong shape to win the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Denver Butler (D), while political newcomer Amy Shir (D) is working tirelessly to pull off an upset of Minority Caucus Chairman Bob DeWeese (R) in the eastern part of the city.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats hope to narrow the Republicans’ current 21-16-1 advantage. While a takeover seems unlikely, Democrats have two incumbents well within their crosshairs (Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, and Bob Leeper, I-Paducah), and two more they believe are vulnerable (Elizabeth Tori, R-Radcliff, and Charlie Borders, R-Grayson).

SUPREME COURT: Less sexy but equally crucial; five of the seven seats on the Kentucky Supreme Court are up for grabs this fall. While judicial races are technically nonpartisan, the same cannot be said for several of the candidates.

In Central Kentucky, former Fletcher campaign aide and general counsel John Roach hopes to win election to the seat Fletcher appointed him to last year, which caused a great deal of controversy. Roach will have to defeat Circuit Judge Mary Noble to earn the seat. In Northern Kentucky, former Republican chairman Marcus Carey is running against Court of Appeals Judge Wil Schroder.

Here in Louisville, expect a barnburner between Circuit Judge Ann O’Malley Shake and William McAnulty, whom Fletcher recently appointed to the Supreme Court to complete the final few months of Martin Johnstone’s term following Johnstone’s early retirement from the bench.

However, when it comes to electing candidates to eight-year terms on the high court, many observers wonder whether Fletcher’s close association with Roach, Carey and McAnulty will hurt them in the eyes of the voters, considering Fletcher’s well-displayed contempt for the rule of law and his efforts to pack the courts with cronies while under indictment.

Clearly, two months is a lifetime in politics, particularly during a time of war. But unlike recent elections, polls have shown that voter sentiment has soured on the direction that Republican leadership has steered the ship of state, and they appear to be clamoring for change.

Unless the dynamics turn around quickly, Republicans may be in for a very long 62 days.

Mark Nickolas is publisher of Kentucky’s most widely read political blog, BluegrassReport.org. Contact him at Mark@BluegrassReport.org