Sunday, October 27, 2002

Races are lacking competition

Democrats, once a majority in congressional delegation, now have only 1 district

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Kentucky Democrats sometimes pine for the days when there were five of their own in the state's seven congressional districts.

These days, there are six congressional seats and only one Democrat. And there is little likelihood of turning that around this year.

Sixth District Rep. Ernie Fletcher has no Democratic opponent. Two other GOP incumbents, Ron Lewis in the 2nd District and Hal Rogers in the 5th, have Democratic opponents who have not had active campaigns.

Democrat Klint Alexander faces an uphill battle in his challenge to four-term U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-1st District.

The two most competitive races involve two of the newest members of Kentucky's congressional delegation - Republican Anne Northup in the 3rd District and Democrat Ken Lucas in the 4th District.

"Experience counts for a lot in this election cycle," Kentucky Republican Chairwoman Ellen Williams said.

Ms. Williams spins it so that Ms. Northup's six years in Congress mean much more against Democrat Jack Conway than Mr. Lucas' four years of service mean against Republican Geoff Davis.

The campaigns have taken unusual twists.

During a campaign appearance with Mr. Davis, a Hebron businessman making his first political race, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning noted that Mr. Lucas is a close friend of Gov. Paul Patton. Left unstated was the clear implication that Mr. Lucas should somehow be tainted with the sex scandal that has sidelined Mr. Patton, who is being sued for sexual harassment, from campaigning.

And Mr. Davis has tried to make issues out of seemingly minor matters. Mr. Davis accused the Lucas camp of sending a "spy" to a campaign event.

A Davis campaign statement last week made much of a note from a Lucas campaign worker asking friends to come out to appear in a campaign commercial that was supposed to show "blue collar workers" supporting Mr. Lucas. Mr. Davis said the Lucas camp was "begging people," though the note from the Lucas campaign worker is clearly to friends and asks if they "are interested in helping."

Mr. Lucas, a former judge-executive of Boone County who has taken his own road as a Democrat, often joining with GOP supporters of various initiatives, touts his experience and bipartisanship. A Lucas commercial even shows him with President Bush, but he is otherwise pretty much ignoring his Republican opponent.

Golf courses, meanwhile, have become an issue in the 3rd District race.

Ms. Northup has accused Mr. Conway, a former deputy cabinet secretary in the Patton administration, of funding golf courses instead of prescription drug benefits for seniors. Mr. Conway countered that Ms. Northup voted for budgets that included golf courses when she was in the General Assembly. Voters in the 3rd District have not been told what golf courses in the state budget, or a prescription drug program that has never been considered at the state level, have to do with a congressional race.

Democratic Chairman Jerry Johnson hopes his candidates can grab voters' attention by emphasizing their wallets.

"The vast majority of people in this country today believe this country is headed in the wrong direction," Mr. Johnson said. "Democrats win when voters concentrate on the economy."

Mr. Johnson says Mr. Alexander could be a "sleeper."

Ms. Williams calls Mr. Whitfield a "compassionate conservative," a phrase made popular then discarded by Mr. Bush. Mostly what he has been is a solid Republican in a district that had never before elected one.

While Mr. Fletcher is unopposed by a Democrat, independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith is challenging and has tried to make an issue of Mr. Fletcher's gubernatorial aspirations.

But incumbents usually win in Kentucky unless something unusual happens.

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