Sunday, February 2, 2003

GOP win should wake up Democrats

Republicans outnumbered, but more of them are voting in 17th District


It is tempting to read Republican Damon Thayer's win in last week's state Senate special election as yet another step toward the GOP's dominance of all things political in Kentucky.

The numbers, particularly those regarding voter registrations, show this was an election that the Democrat - Scott County labor leader Charles Wells - should have won without raising a finger. But numbers alone hardly tell the story of Kentucky politics these days.

Or put another way, Democrats just don't vote for Democrats the way they once did in this state. And that continues to be a boost to Republicans.

Take a look at the three counties of the new 17th Senate District, which covers southern Kenton County and all of Grant, Owen and Scott counties. Turnout was a dismal 13 percent across the district.

Thayer carried Grant County with 948 votes to Wells' 712, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans there nearly 3 to 1. In Grant, 8,472 are registered Democrats and only 3,772 are registered Republicans. Democrats will tell you that Thayer, who now lives in Scott County, had a built-in advantage because he lived in Grant County for seven years during the 1990s and was involved in GOP politics there.

Fair enough. But that logic doesn't hold when we look at Scott County, where Wells has lived for 23 years while Thayer moved in just three years ago.

By all accounts, Wells should have trounced Thayer in Scott County, where Republicans trail Democrats in voter registrations, 6,603 to 14,241. But Thayer came within 26 votes of Wells, who barely carried his home county with 1,813 votes to 1,787 for Thayer.

Then there's the Democratic debacle in Owen County, which Dems continued to lay claim to throughout the campaign. Republicans have just 1,120 registered voters, compared with 5,923 for Democrats. Again, this should have been a place for Wells to place some distance between himself and Thayer.

But with 539 votes , Thayer darn near won the county, trailing Wells by just 46 votes.

Democrats should hide their eyes, scream and run down the hall as fast as they can when it comes to Kenton County results. Thayer not only doubled up on Wells with 1,639 votes to 810, but he carried 24 of the 25 precincts in the district. The only precinct he lost, Morningview, was by a single vote.

The final vote across the district showed 4,913 for Thayer, 3,920 for Wells.

By Wednesday, Dems were in full excuse mode:

This was a weird election because it was held in January. Nobody knew about it. It was cold and people stayed home. Thayer had more money than Wells. The district was tailor-made for Thayer because the counties involved have been voting Republican in recent elections. Turnout was so low you can't read this as a groundswell victory for the GOP.

All basically true. But my favorite was this one - Republicans are just more motivated and excited about voting.

Bingo! If that isn't a wakeup call for the Dems, nothing will be.

It's absolutely true that the GOP does a better job of getting its people to the polls. And in elections when turnouts continue to be low, victory is not found in message as much as it is in methods.

The Democrats need to start figuring out how to do what Republicans have been doing so well in recent elections. Or they can continue to watch the losses mount.

Bucks for Fletcher. GOP gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher and his lieutenant governor running mate Hunter Bates were in town last week getting lots of high-profile support from plenty of big-name Republicans.

But candidates also want campaign cash out of the region. That will happen in early March at Covington's posh Metropolitan Club, when three Southwest Ohio Republican congressmen - Steve Chabot of Cincinnati, Rob Portman of Terrace Park and John Boehner of West Chester - head across the river to help host a fund-raiser for the Fletcher-Bates ticket.

Fletcher serves in Congress with the trio, representing the 6th District , which covers the Lexingtonarea.


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