And they’re off: There are four Democratic ponies in the race to see who takes on Northup. Three look good.

In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely.” —Hunter S. Thompson; “Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time” (1979)

Somewhere in the distance during last Thursday’s Democratic Primary debate for the Third District Congressional seat could be heard a bugle sounding the iconic notes of the “Call to the Post.” It was faint under the din of the 400 or so people packed into Masterson’s Nicholas Room, where it was standing room only, a high-energy congress of voters hungry for a real candidate to take on Rep. Anne Northup, Louisville’s cash-whipped U.S. representative.

There were young and old, plenty of men but probably more women; lawyers, judges, doctors and politicos. There were candidates running for other offices, shucking obsequiously like they do when the Season rolls around. Of course, plenty of press was also on hand.

In a bright room with a stage of podiums, the anticipated spectacle began in decidedly less-than-spectacular fashion. A showdown’s a-brewing between the Iraq War veteran, the independently wealthy former newspaperman, the engineer and businessman, and the political namesake.

But the horses jumped awfully slowly from the gate.

To be fair, the format of the debate — strictly one hour, with two-minute opening and closing statements and 90-second answers to questions posed by three members of local media — really only allowed for exposition. We learned that each of these four men is, in fact, a Democrat. We know they are somewhat uniquely united in their desire to see Northup handled, that they oppose the war and favor some level of campaign finance reform.

Other issues du jour were immigration; the Ohio River Bridges Project and, by extension, capital projects in the district; Social Security; and the seniority factor — the notion that Northup’s spot on the Appropriations Committee can afford no substitute.

For his part, James W. Moore (the engineer) was the anti-politician hero. His altruistic pledge to run without PAC (political action committee) money was delivered with his stylistically brutish oratorical force, replete with gravitas-wielding declarative sentences like, “Money kills free speech: it’s death by drowning.”

Moore was the only candidate to openly support Tyler Allen’s “8664” plan for reworking Spaghetti Junction, which he favors in conjunction with a light rail public transit system. Courier-Journal editorial director David Hawpe shook with a hearty chuckle when Moore invoked the plan, laughing and pointing condescendingly like a king ready to fire a servant for naïve stupidity. Hawpe and the C-J have been the loudest opponents of Allen’s transportation ideas. He appeared to be a chorus of one in that setting.

Among the first words 27-year Marine Corps veteran Andrew Horne uttered were, “I can beat Anne Northup.” The national press seems flaccid on that idea: As one of 10 Iraq War veterans running for Congress this term, he’s been featured in the Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly, on Air America Radio, CNN and ABC News, the major criticism being that he’s a single-issue candidate, something he didn’t do much to counteract during the debate. He seemed to lack the massive ego required by national politics, which may not be a bad thing.

Yarmuth spoke clearly and obviously commands a large database of facts about policy. He talked about the importance of personal integrity to the public trust, and said the American political system is in need of some self-respect. Calling the coming election “critical,” he suggested a living wage — increasing the minimum wage to reflect actual costs of living — to help solve the immigration problem. Better pay would, by his estimation, make Americans want the crap jobs that Mexicans are handling for pennies on the dollar now. Yarmuth was a little limp when it came to Spaghetti Junction, however, saying merely that we should look at that interchange first, and that the community should prepare for a funding shortfall on the bridges project.

Ted Shlechter, a Democrat and editor of The Bridge blog and newsletter, was dissatisfied with Yarmuth’s position on the bridges.

“I was upset about the prominence that John placed upon redoing Spaghetti Junction, which is a touching issue with people in Butchertown,” he said via e-mail after the debate. “Regardless of what anybody says, doing that would destroy part of the city as we know it. We need to find a way of reducing downtown traffic with the least amount of damage to our city.”

And then there was Burrel Charles Farnsley. The room filled with condescending smiles when he invoked his bureaucrat father, who was mayor from 1948-1953, for the sixth or seventh time. These were the sheepish, half-apologetic looks that aunts and uncles effect when a fantasizing nephew keeps talking about his pet Minotaur at the family reunion — just humor him and he’ll shut up eventually.

Soni Castleberry said she came in with preconceived ideas about one of the candidates, who has a wealth of support among her friends — she wouldn’t say which — but he left her unconvinced.

“I think the most important thing is that all four of them are sincere about seeing Anne Northup beaten,” the St. Matthews resident said. There’s been talk of an agreement among the candidates to play nice in the primary and unify behind whomever wins.

Petra Stephens was just happy to see the four men on stage.

“It was a really good introduction to the candidates,” she said.

Jack Walker was Perry Clark’s campaign manager in the recent special election he won for the state Senate’s 37th district. He’s also director of the Senate Democratic caucus. Walker said he was pleased with the discourse last Thursday.

“They really bring forth the character and leadership needed in Washington D.C. right now,” he said.

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