Cementing a Democratic Majority or the Beginning of the End of Democratic Dominance in the Kentucky House?
I thought I would do a primer on the upcoming special election in House District 56 in Kentucky to be held on June 25. This seat is open because Rep. Carl Rollins (D-Midway) took a state job. This district, mapped below, is made of three parts: Woodford County, Eastern Franklin County, and some precincts in the SW part of Fayette County. This district is in the heart of horse country (often called the Bluegrass), and would strongly support expanded gaming to help that industry. A lot of elites in Kentucky also live in Woodford County, such as former Congressman Ben Chandler (D-Versailles). There are also a lot of state workers that live in this district, meaning that a strongly anti-government message would not play so well here. Also important is that Franklin and Woodford Counties generally are in the top five counties in Kentucky for voter turnout, so expect this to generate more turnout than a normal special election. And since you will learn that the Fayette portion has voted for the GOP candidate here in the last two elections, the fact that it lags behind over 10% in turnout over the other two candidates should be helpful to the Democrat.
Polls will close at 6:00 P.M. so we should know something here pretty early (before polls in MA close).
First- How has the district voted for St. Rep. under the current map?
As one can see, Democrats seem to do very well in Franklin, win a modest victory in Woodford, and hope to keep Fayette close.
2012 Election Total Fayette Franklin Woodford
Carl Rollins-D 10,851 (53.3%) 1,840 2,520 6,491
Douglass Jones-R 9,522 (46.7%) 1,989 2,071 5,462
2010 Election Total Fayette Franklin Woodford
Carl Rollins-D 8,590 (52.3%) 1,378 2,084 5,128
Lyen Crews-R 7,846 (47.7%) 1,540 1,682 4,624
2008 Election- Rollins was unopposed
2006 Election (open) Total Fayette Franklin Woodford
Carl Rollins-D 7,783 (56.5%) 1,425 2,076 4,282
Kevin Locke-R 5,995 (43.5%) 1,388 1,160 3,447
Joe Barrows-D 10,262 (54.0%) 2,063 2,433 5,766
Tony Moreno-R 8,741 (46.0%) 1,952 1,679 5,110
2002 Election- Barrows was unopposed
Second- How has the district voted in other recent races?
2012 President Total Fayette Franklin Woodford
Romney-R 11822 (57.8%) 2038 2565 7219
Obama-D 8389 (41.0%) 1652 1854 4883
Johnson-L 238 (1.2%) 48 37 153
2012 President Dem Primary
Obama-D 2462 (59.2%)
Uncommitted 1696 (40.8%)
Beshear-D 6790 (53.4%)
Williams-R 2860 (22.5%)
Galbreath-I 3061 (24.1%)
2011 Secretary of State
Grimes-D 8408 (67.2%)
Johnson-R 4106 (32.8%)
2011 Attorney General
Conway-D 7313 (59.1%)
P'Pool-R 5057 (40.9%)
2011 Auditor of Public Accounts
Edelen-D 7702 (63.7%)
Kemper-R 4391 (36.3%)
Hollenbach-D 5954 (48.4%)
Crosbie-R 5678 (46.1%)
Moellman-L 674 (5.5%)
2011 Commissioner of Agriculture
Comer-R 8046 (65.1%)
Farmer-D 4311 (34.9%)
2010 U.S. Senate
Paul-R 8722 (52.8%)
Conway-D 7792 (47.2%)
McCain-R 12,328 (56.4%)
Obama-D 9,222 (42.2%)
Other 312 (1.4%)
Democratic 18,173 (58.9%)
Republican 10,410 (33.7%)
Other 2,269 (7.4%)
What is obvious from all these numbers is that when you take federal races out of the picture, Democratic numbers are much better. So the GOP is smart to try to federalize the race. I do not have access to the precinct numbers for the 2008 Senate race, but it appears McConnell and Lunsford ran pretty close here. McConnell carried Woodford with 51.4%, but Lunsford ran up such a big number in Franklin, that it likely erased that margin, while the Fayette portions would have narrowly went to McConnell.
Third- The Candidates
The Democrat- James Kay a Woodford County lawyer and the chair of the Democratic Party there. He is pretty young- 30, but has also worked in Frankfort for House Democrats. He seems to be well connected with the major players in Democratic politics in Kentucky. He has had Gov. Beshear, Secretary of State Grimes, and Auditor Edelen campaign for him. Beshear is very popular in the Bluegrass, so it shows why the opening page of Kay's website has a picture of him with Beshear. As of the last campaign finance report, Kay raised $132,749. He also got another $7,500 in spending from Kentucky Family Values. Kay has been running some negative ads, which may be a sign that the GOP negative attacks on him have taken a toll on his numbers.
The Republican- Lyen Crews is a financial officer for eCampus.com in Lexington. He has held similar posts at Midway College and the former Woodford Memorial Hospital. He challenged Rollins in 2010. He has faced attacks from Kay for his time when Woodford Memorial Hospital went under. He is not so much focusing on local issues, but rather trying to tie Kay to the rather unpopular President Obama. He has raised $68,806, but has gotten another $140,538 from the Republican State Leadership Campaign in Washington.
The Independent- John-Mark Hack is a former agriculture aide to former Gov. Paul Patton (D-Pikeville). He now works in the food industry. He is touting that he is the only candidate with public and private sector experience. He also was the head of an anti-gambling group, so he may draw support among religious conservatives, though Crews has the Kentucky Right to Life endorsement. He has raised significantly less, but it appears somewhere around the $20,000 area. An interesting late development is that he received an endorsement from the Lexington Herald-Leader, which normally backs Democrats. It could give him some momentum in the race.
Fourth- What is going to happen?
My answer to the first question is pretty murky. Having the election as a special election probably helps the Democrats, as a lot of the government workers in the district vote regularly, while some of the anti-Obama voters that showed up a lot in 2010 and 2012 did not seem to be as prevalent in 2011. However, Democrats in the Kentucky House had a hard time keeping open seats in 2012. Of the six seats Democrats lost, four were from open seats (they did defeat a GOP incumbent in Louisville and win an open seat in Paducah). Given the narrow margins in this seat when contested, it seems like a prime GOP takeover opportunity. But one thing is that Democrats are not letting this seat take them by surprise. They got organized very early and Democrats have put in money and organization wise. I would note that Kentucky does not have much in the way of absentee and early voting, so election day will decide this election. If the election is really close and Democrats win, they may be able to thank the Fayette County Clerk, who discovered an error that added a net of over 100 Democrats in Fayette County. I have to call the race a tossup, but I give a slight edge to Kay. I also have to say to keep an eye on Hack, as he could surprise people.
One important note- The district will change slightly under the Democratic House map. It drops a few Republican precincts in Franklin County, and adds a new precinct in Scott County that is competitive. The big change is that it will no longer pick up the two heavily Republican precincts in SW Fayette County and instead shifts the precincts into the northwest part of the county. This increases the Dem number here by 1.4% and decreases the GOP number here by 1.4%. So we will see overall a near three point swing in our favor because of the redistricting plan, but the race will be under the old map.
Lastly- What is the impact of the race?
Both parties are coy, but privately they acknowledge that this is the first shot in the battle for 2014 control of the House. Currently, Democrats have a 54-45 edge in the House. A Dem win means the GOP needs a 6 seat gain to win the House, a loss cuts that to 5, though most people think of the GOP can get to 49 seats that they will get a couple of Democrats to switch sides. One of the important things for Democrats is in 2014 is limit open seats. If Democrats lose this seat, some members may decide to start taking other jobs and not run again in belief that the party will lose the House anyway. A win will allow leaders to convince members to seek reelection. Most state party leaders think that if they can hold the House in 2014, that they can regain some ground in 2016 when they expect Hillary Clinton to lead the ticket. And speaking of 2016, if the GOP wins the House, expect them to change election laws to allow Rand Paul to run for President and the Senate at the same time. Right now, he has to pick one to file for in January 2016. There could also be an impact on the 2014 Senate race. A win would be seen as a boost to Alison Lundergan Grimes, since she campaigned here, but a loss would be a sign to Kentucky Democrats that using the Obama card is something that has staying power.
Another thing to consider is that the Dem map creates several open seats as it pairs several Republicans. Winning an open seat here helps Dems recruit candidates. Key open seats under the Dem map include a seat of the Mississippi River Counties plus parts of Graves County, an Anderson-Spencer seat, an Estill-Powell-Madison seat, a new Lexington seat, northern Warren County seat, and a potentially open seat in Nelson County (depending on Senate maps). There are also a handful of GOP incumbents they may target. The GOP will likely look for open seat opportunities, and then look for strong challengers for members they got close to in 2012. Top among these would be Rep. John Arnold (D-Sturgis), Jim Glenn (D-Owensboro), and Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville). While mentioning Damron, his seat along with Rep. Wilson Stone (D-Scottsville), Jimmie Lee (D-Elizabethtown), and Hubert Collins (D-Whittensburg) would be extremely problematic to hold when they retire, given they are very Republican. In fact, President Obama received only 18.3% of the vote in Collins' district in Eastern Kentucky, his lowest number for any Democrat in any legislative race in the country (Collins' seat is primarily Martin and Johnson Counties, which are historically very Republican, and not part of the strongly Democratic coal counties- in local races). Other seats will be heavily contested by Republicans when they open up as well, such as Rep. Tommy Thompson (D-Owensboro), Martha Jane King (D-Russellville), Charles Miller (D-Louisville), Dennis Keene (D-Wilder), Mike Denham (D-Maysville), Johnny Bell (D-Glasgow), Rick Nelson (D-Middlesboro), Jim Gooch (D-Providence), Terry Mills (D-Lebanon), and Will Coursey (D-Benton). This is not to say Democrats will lose any or all of these, but that they will seriously contested by the GOP.