Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Kentucky

There is a lot riding on redistricting in Kentucky, most of it centered around the Lexington-based 6th District held by Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler. However, unlike its neighbor to the south, there will be interest in other districts also. Some of it will manifest itself in 2012 while others will occur later in the decade since Democrats feel they have a stable of good candidates coming up the ranks who will provide serious threats to the current Republican domination in 2014 and beyond.

However, we first have to get through 2012. In 2008, Obama lost the state handily by 16 points and there is no reason to believe 2012 will be any better to him. As the election of Tea Party favorite Rand Paul illustrated, the conservatism of the state has maintained its status quo, if not strengthened. Give this state to the eventual GOP nominee. Adding to Obama’s miseries is his environmental policies and attacks upon the coal industry. Coal still plays a major role in the economy and persona of kentucky.

The 1st District, which covers the more rural western part of Kentucky, is represented by Republican Ed Whitfield who is seeking reelection. He has stated that he is not opposed to running with Owensboro in his district and has been raising money at a fairly good clip. There is some limited controversy about him, particularly his residency, but he has seemingly answered those questions. Another is questions about campaign contributions from energy sector donors, especially after he assumed a leadership role on an energy committee in the House. However, this should be a blip on the radar in Kentucky politics. State senator Brent Yonts would be a good challenger, but he will most likely pass up a run in 2012 citing the top of the ticket- specifically, Obama- as the primary reason. Due to redistricting and the fact that 2014 is not a presidential election year, he would more likely run then rather than now.

The talk out of Republican Ben Guthrie’s district is that he will lose Owensboro to the 1st and Ashland to the 5th, he should prevail considering that his most serious Democratic threat- former Kentucky secretary of state Elaine Walker- will also probably bypass the 2012 elections. Although she has not completely ruled out a run in her district, it is no secret she aspires to statewide office stating she likes traveling around the state. If that is the case, a more likely race would be in 2014 as an opponent to Senator to Mitch McConnell. Hence, Guthrie appears safe. Democrat John Yarmuth in the 3rd should win reelection against unsuccessful 2010 challenger Brooks Wicker. In the 5th, besides possible redistricting decisions (gaining Ashland, or some Republican territory from the 6th), Republican Hal Rogers also appears safe.

The 4th District seemed like a yawn until Republican incumbent Geoff Davis announced his retirement recently. Since then, Republicans and Democrats alike have been rushing in to succeed him. For the GOP, Lewis County judge Thomas Massie is trying to shore up $100,000 in funding before seeking a run and the district’s GOP chair Kevin Sell is also trying to gain supporters before announcing a run, as is Boone County judge Gary Moore. Hunter Bates, a former aid to McConnell, would be an interesting possibility. Many in Republican circles are also touting the virtues of Alecia Webb-Edgington as a viable candidate.

Even though Democrats realize it will be difficult winning this seat, they still view it as a unique opportunity. Specifically, realizing that Obama is not exactly the most popular figure in Kentucky, they still feel that Kentucky voters, especially those in the 4th District, are not particularly thrilled about the possibility of a President Romney either. Campbell County commissioner Ron Rechton and Linda Klembara of the Kentucky Woman’s Network are two possibilities. However, the two better candidates may be Nathan Smith, the former vice chair of the state party, who has has expressed some interest stating that any candidate has to be pro-business and that he has those credentials. Grant County judge Darrell Link is also another possibility as his name has surfaced in some circles. Whoever faces off against who, this district should remain in Republican hands, but political careers on either side of the aisle will begin.

Finally, the 6th District, held by Democrat Ben Chandler, is the main focus of redistricting efforts. It has to lose 36,000 people in order to reach the ideal population. One plan has it losing Jessamine County to the 2nd and Garrard County to the 5th. Since they are both Republican leaning counties, Hal Rogers and Ben Guthrie would benefit. Long term, Rogers does not really need the help although Guthrie will in the future. Although the overall effect will be to protect Chandler, in the long term it also benefits the GOP in the 2nd District.

Regardless, Chandler will face a rematch against Andy Barr who he defeated in 2010 by only 647 votes. Chandler survived the GOP wave of 2010 and feels the worst is now behind him. Also, with greater Democratic turnout in 2012 because it is a presidential election year, he believes his chances will be enhanced further. And while it is true that the number of registered Democrats far exceeds the number of registered Republicans, as voting totals show, crossing party lines is the norm.

Barr acknowledges that 2012 will prove more difficult than 2010 because of redistricting and turnout concerns. In fact, he is a vocal opponent of the proposed district changes. Still, he believes that having the unpopular Obama at the top of the ticket will help him and take votes from Chandler. Further, a 6-way primary in 2010 left Barr bruised entering the general election. This year should prove different as it appears he has a clear path to the GOP nomination. Finally, he will stress the fact that Chandler, when given the opportunity, still showed support for Nancy Pelosi when he voted for her to be House minority leader instead of fellow Democrat, southerner, and Blue Dog Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

At worst, the congressional delegation remains 4-2 in favor of the Republicans. Barr’s chances of winning in the 6th District are better than any Democrat’s chances of winning in the 4th. Still, when all is said and done, Chandler should win reelection.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 99 votes to 165 for the GOP nominee;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 3 Senators;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: Illinois