Saturday, December 28, 2002

Basketball game may overshadow political nomination

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kentucky may be the only place where a basketball game affects the political process.About an hour after today's noon tipoff in the game between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, Democrats from four counties - including a portion of Kenton County - will gather in Georgetown to select the party's nominee for a Jan. 28th state Senate special election.

But thanks to the Wildcats and the Cardinals, the number of Democrats who actually show up to vote may be low. And that has one candidate crying foul.

"There really couldn't be a worse time to hold an election than is Saturday afternoon," said Kenton County Democratic Chairman Nathan Smith.

Not only is there the much-anticipated televised matchup between cross-state rivals UK and UofL - easily the biggest game of the year in a state wild about basketball - but today falls between Christmas and New Year's, a time when most people aren't thinking about politics.

"It's hard enough to get a good turnout for something like this," Mr. Smith said. "First you have the game, which is definitely going to affect turnout. Then it's the holiday season and a lot of people are on vacation."

Democrats will meet 1 p.m. today in the Scott County seat of Georgetown, about an hour south of Northern Kentucky, to select a nominee for the special election Gov. Paul Patton has called to fill the newly drawn 17th Senate District seat.

The district serves all of Scott, Grant and Owen counties and the southern portion of Kenton County, which covers about 25 precincts.

The candidates are Cliff Wallace of Grant County, the superintendent of the Williamstown Schools, and Charles Wells, a Scott County organized labor leader.

Damon Thayer, a horse-racing industry executive from Scott County, was elected the Republican nominee last week.

But Mr. Wallace has questioned whether the Scott County Democratic Party, which has already endorsed Mr. Wells, is trying to keep turnout down by scheduling the vote to conflict with the basketball game.

"How in the heck are you going to get people to drive all the way to Scott County in the middle of the UK/Louisville game?" Mr. Wallace said. "People in Scott County can go over, vote and then go home and watch the rest of the game. But other people may not want to go all the way to Georgetown because they don't want to miss the game."

Margaret Greynolds, chairwoman of the Scott County Democratic Party, said today was selected because it was a weekend and because under state law the nominee had to be selected by Jan. 2.

Mrs. Greynolds said in no way was the vote scheduled to drive down turnout. But she admitted that having the home court advantage in the nominating process could benefit Mr. Wells.

"It's certainly beneficial to us because the vote is in our home county and I'm not worried about our people showing up," she said.

Mr. Wells said he isn't concerned about Scott County Democrats staying home to watch the game.

"Our folks are going to be there," he promised.

The seat's district was drawn earlier this year when state lawmakers reconfigured legislative districts based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

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