Sunday, November 05, 2000

Ky. Senate race suddenly close


2nd lady stumps for Henson

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Independence Democrat Jaimie Henson turned to a former beauty queen Saturday to help win a closer-than-expected state Senate race in Kenton County.

        Heather French Henry, the former Miss America and new wife of Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, was the star attraction at a late afternoon political rally for Mrs. Henson at the American Legion Hall in Latonia. The site was chosen because of Mrs. French Henry's work on veterans' issues.

        “Jaimie Henson said she will make veterans a priority in Frankfort, and everyone in the nation will say they want to be like Kentucky, and Jaimie Henson will be a part of that,” Mrs. French Henry told a noisy crowd of about 125.

        The event was deeply political, because Mrs. French Henry — who campaigned for other Senate Democrats Saturday elsewhere in the state — had not met Mrs. Henson before Saturday.

        Mrs. Henson, a flight attendant whose only political experience is serving one term on Independence City Council, was hardly expected to make a strong run at the 23rd Senate District seat that Erlanger Republican Jack Westwood has held for one four-year term.

        Just a little over a month ago Democratic insiders in Frankfort were writing the race off as a loss as they worked toward regaining control of the Senate, where the GOP holds its first ma jority in history, a slim 20-18 advantage.

        Not only was Mr. Westwood an incumbent in
a Republican-friendly Senate district but he raised about twice as much money as Mrs. Henson.

        But while the Democrats aren't predicting a win in Tuesday's election, even Republican Party leaders have privately admitted Mrs. Henson has gained momentum and picked up ground in GOP polls as Election Day draws near.

        Mr. Westwood has hurt himself, Republican leaders were saying this week, by walking out of a mid-October debate with Mrs. Henson and for not answering attacks she, her campaign and Democratic Party leaders have made on his record and effectiveness in Frankfort.

        “You know we have the right message,” Mrs. Henson said during a speech at the rally. “You know we've got the issues. You know I'm going to work for you.”

        Friday, the Westwood campaign did strongly react after the Kentucky Demo cratic Party placed radio ads on Cincinnati stations.

        The ads claim that Mr. Westwood voted to raise his legislative pay and opposed taking a tax off prescription drugs sold in Kentucky.

        Spencer Noe, an attorney with the Republican Party of Kentucky, sent a letter threatening legal action against the stations unless the ads were pulled off the air.

        Management at WRRM, WUBE and WGRR could not be reached Saturday to comment and it's unclear whether the ads have been pulled.

        Sean Pinkston, a spokesman for the Senate Republican Leadership office in Frankfort, said some of the ads have been taken off the air.

        But members of Mrs. Henson's campaign said the ads were only being reviewed and have not been removed.

        David Kramer, a lawyer and adviser to Mrs. Henson's campaign, said the ads should not be removed because they are accurate.

        Mr. Kramer said Mr. Noe and the Republicans are confused about the votes Mr. Westwood made that are mentioned in the ads.

        The prescription drug tax mentioned in the ad is an existing tax that Mrs. Henson wants removed. In her campaign she has said Mr. Westwood has failed to take action to get the tax, which is only on certain drugs, taken off prescriptions.

        Mr. Westwood did vote in 1998 for removing a broader tax on prescriptions.

        Mr. Westwood, a retired schoolteacher, also voted against a legislative pay hike two years ago.

        But Democrats are saying in the radio ads that Mr. Westwood did vote to increase lawmakers' pensions and in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to meet every year instead of every two years, as they do now.

        Democrats argue the bills would increase lawmakers' pay, either through a pension increase or through annual sessions, because legislators' paychecks are based on how many days they spend in Frankfort.

        Marc Wilson, Mr. Westwood's campaign manager, said the ads are a “desperation move” by the Democrats.

        “This whole campaign has been about negative attacks, and now they are using soft money from the Kentucky Democratic Party because all they have to offer is fear itself,” Mr. Wilson said.

        Mr. Westwood was to spend Saturday knocking on doors in the district, but his father passed away during the afternoon, Mr. Wilson said. About 150 volunteers went door-to-door campaigning for Mr. Westwood, he said.

       



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