As we noted in this week’s LEO, Kentucky Republicans think they can win enough seats in the state House next week to take back the majority, which would be sure to usher in a wave of conservative legislation in Frankfort.
But can they pull off gaining 10 seats? The Democrats have a giant fundraising advantage over Republicans – most competitive races have the Democrat spending 2-3 times more than the Republican – but spending alone doesn’t win elections, as the 2010 House races showed. Here’s our analysis/breakdown of that possibility, looking at each of the closely contested House races around the state.
There are two big mystery factors at play in these races. The first is how big of a drag the presidential race will be on Democrats in the conservative districts in western Kentucky. Republicans are trying their best to tie these candidates to Obama and the national Democratic Party, but these Democratic candidates are for the most part very (very) conservative themselves.
The second factor is how much Gov. Steve Beshear is able to help Democrats. The KDP is pouring tons of money into competitive races, especially ads with Beshear saying he needs more Democrats to help overcome Republican obstructionism.
So do conservative Democrats love Beshear more than they hate Obama? That is the big question that will determine many of these close races. If it’s the former, Democrats could actually gain seats. If it’s the latter, Republicans could either gain a few, though gaining 10 seats and the majority appears to be a longshot. Unless this is a wave election, in which all of these “lean Democrat” seats go the Republican’s way.
Our crystal ball says there will be little change in power at all in the House: three seats flip to Republicans, and three seats flip to Democrats.
Here’s our dart board projections in the competitive races (incumbent with *):
2nd District (Leans Democrat)
Kelly Whitaker (D) vs. Richard Heath (R) (open Democratic seat)
Longtime Democratic representative Fred Nessler is retiring from the seat that he’s easily held since 1993, in this western Kentucky district that is growing more conservative. Whitaker, like so many other Democrats in close races, has almost double the campaign funds as Heath, with a big assist from the Kentucky Democratic Party and House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee. Whitaker is extremely conservative, which should just barely overcome the Republican’s efforts to tie her to Obama.
3rd District (Leans Democrat) (Flips to Democrats)
Gerald Watkins (D) vs. Jason Crockett (R) (open Republican seat)
Republican Rep. Brent Housman – first elected in a close 2008 race – announced his retirement this year, igniting one of the many dogfights for an open western Kentucky House seat. Watkins, a city commissioner in Paducah, is one of the few Democratic candidates in a contested race to be outspent by his opponent, as Crockett – a radio station general manager – has poured his $90,000 of life savings into the race. Crockett has the money, but is a little too amateurish to keep the seat in Republican hands.
4th District (Leans Democrat)
Raymond Giannini (D) vs. Lynn Bechler (R) (open Democratic seat)
Retiring Democrat Rep. Mike Cherry blew out Bechler in 2010, who is back for another try against newcomer Giannini. Bechler is spending twice as much as he did 2010 – and had Rand Paul make a campaign appearance — but Giannini is spending twice as much as Bechler, which means the Democrats should be able to hold onto the seat.
5th District (Leans Republican) (Flips to Republicans)
Hal Kemp (D) vs. Kenny Imes (R) (open Democratic seat)
Another retiring Democrat opened up this seat, which is another rare race where Republicans have the money advantage (and a large one, at that). Kemp’s money disadvantage and conservative electoral shift will be too much to overcome – despite this awesome jingle.
7th District (Leans Republican) (Flips to Republicans)
*John Arnold (D) vs. Tim Kline (R)
Longtime officeholder Arnold has been limited in campaigning due to health problems, and his Republican challenger has raised much more money, with TV ads already blanketing the airwaves. Kline pulls off the upset and flips the seat to Republicans.
10th District (Likely Republican)
*Ben Waide (R) vs. Mike Seiber (D)
Waide won 56 percent of the vote in 2010, and has a money advantage this year. However, Seiber is spending much more than Waide’s 2010 challenger — with a late assist from the KDP — and could make the contest closer. Waide holds on.
13th District (Leans Democrat)
*Jim Glenn (D) vs. Bill Barron (I)
Glenn won by less than 200 votes in 2010, and faces a challenger this year in Barron who is spending three times what his 2010 opponent spent. Though Glenn is sitting on a mountain of campaign cash, Barron is a more viable opponent and has been hammering Glenn on his brave votes against the ultrasound bill. Barron’s flaw, however, is that he is running as an independent, which means that straight ticket voting Republicans might pass him by. That will wind up being the only reason Glenn hangs on by a handful of votes, once more.
14th District (Likely Democrat)
*Tommy Thompson (D) vs. Marian Turley (R)
Thompson is rarely ever challenged and has a campaign chest roughly three times bigger than Turley. But Turley has spent enough to make it a race, and the electoral troubles of Glenn and Arnold in Owensboro show that Democratic invincibility in the region is over. Unlike Glenn and Arnold, Thompson holds on.
16th District (Leans Democrat)
*Martha Jane King (D) vs. Christopher Hightower (R)
King won easily over a fringe opponent in 2010, but now faces a fringe Tea Party candidate in Hightower who has been able to raise some money and grassroots support – including Rand Paul cutting a few ads for him. Hightower, known for his satanic death metal band and MySpace diatribes against Christianity, has apparently found religion, playing up his strong Christian faith in ads. King still has three times the money and should be able dispatch with Hightower.
20 District (Likely Democrat)
*Jody Richards (D) vs. Regina Webb (R)
Richards has been untouchable in Bowling Green for years, and has amassed a staggering $170,000 war chest. But Webb has almost $50,000 — including very well done TV ads — and hopes that Rand Paul’s hometown comes through with another shocking upset of the Democratic establishment. She won’t.
24 District (Leans Democrat)
*Terry Mills (D) vs. MJ “Bill” Pickerill (R)
Mills only managed 53 percent of the vote in 2010, despite facing a virtually nonexistent opponent. Pickerill, however, is only barely existent with $8,000 raised, so Mills should be able to win.
27th District (Leans Democrat)
*Jeff Greer (D) vs. Dalton Jantzen (R)
Greer almost faced a shocking upset against Jantzen in 2010, who is back for the rematch. Jantzen is spending twice as much as he did in 2010, yet is still being outspent by over three times by Greer this time around. Greer won’t be caught off guard this time, and holds on, barely.
28th District (Likely Democrat)
*Charles Miller (D) vs. Corey Koellner (R)
Miller won comfortably in 2010 and had almost seven times the campaign funds as his opponent. But Democrats are wary of another Louisville upset like that of Nemes last time. Shouldn’t happen.
31st District (Leans Democrat)
*Steve Riggs (D) vs. Nicholas Simon (R)
Riggs isn’t used to getting a challenge, and he’s getting all he can handle in Nicholas X. Simon, who as of last week had spent more than Riggs. However, Riggs is sitting on more than $73,000 in additional money over the last two weeks, so we expect him to be able to hold on to the race — though he lost his signature mustache.
36th District (Likely Republican)
Bradley Montgomery (D) vs. Jonathan Shell (R) (open Republican seat)
Longtime Republican officeholder Lonnie Napier announced his retirement, then saw his handpicked successor defeated by Shell in the primary. Shell has a slight money advantage over Montgomery and should be able to keep the seat in Republican hands.
38th District (Leans Democrat) (Flips to Democrats)
*Mike Nemes (R) vs. Denny Butler (D)
Nemes shocked everyone with an upset win in 2010, despite being heavily outspent. This time around he’s being outspent heavily again by challenger Denny Butler – whose father once served in the House. Nemes isn’t surprising anyone this time, and lightning won’t strike twice.
39th District (Likely Democrat)
*Bob Damron (D) vs. Matt Lockett (R)
It’s hard to lose when you’ve raised 180,000 and your opponent has raised about $15,000, but such are the benefits of being the chair of the Democrats House campaign committee, as Bob Damron is. Despite the money advantage, the district is fairly conservative, and the Tea Party types have Damron high on their hit list. But he will not be hit.
49th District (Leans Republican) (Flips to Republicans)
*Linda Belcher (D) vs. Russell Webber (R)
This is a rematch of one of the tightest 2010 races, which Belcher won by 100 votes. Webber spent almost nothing in 2010, but now has a formidable war chest, even though it’s less than half of Belcher’s. Webber gets the edge this time.
50th District (Leans Democrat)
*David Floyd (R) vs. Dick Heaton (D)
The House GOP Whip has been unchallenged for years, but now faces a candidate who had already spent over $100,000 as of last week, and has $46,000 still in the bank. The district is still deep red, so Floyd should be able to escape, thought he’ll sweat a little.
54th District (Leans Democrat) (Flips to Democrats)
*Mike Harmon (R) vs. Barry Harmon (D)
Mike Harmon only won with 53 percent of the vote in 2008, but didn’t face a challenger in 2010. This year he faces a challenger spending well over twice the amount of money, whose name happens to also be… Harmon. Ballot confusion, plus the Republican Harmon’s lack of advertising, will allow the Democrats to steal this race away for the upset.
55th District (Leans Republican)
*Kim King (R) vs. Kent Stevens (D)
King knocked off the incumbent Stevens with 53 percent of the vote in 2010, despite being outspent heavily. Stevens is outspending King again, and the race should be tighter, but we don’t expect Stevens to make it over the hump.
61st District (Leans Democrat)
Wanda Hammons (D) vs. Brian Linder (R) (open Democratic seat)
Retiring Democrat Royce Adams held this seat with ease for years, but now both parties are scrambling for the competitive open seat. Linder had spent more money as of two weeks ago, but Hammons has $30,000 in reserve for the home stretch. This could go either way, but we’ll give the edge to Hammons.
62nd District (Leans Republican)
*Ryan Quarles (R) vs. Charlie Hoffman (D)
Quarles caught the overconfident incumbent Hoffman off guard in 2010, pulling off the upset by 200 votes. Hoffman is ready this time around, playing dirty with a Quarles mug shot in his mailer, but Quarles didn’t win last time by accident – he’s good. Quarles wins another tight one in increasingly conservative Scott County.
67th District (Leans Democrat)
*Dennis Keene (D) vs. Adam Haas (R)
In one of the few Democratic seats left in northern Kentucky, Keene won 56 percent of the vote in 2010, despite facing a nonexistent challenger. This time around, Haas is a credible challenger, spending nearly $40,000, but Keene has nearly $200,000, perhaps spending more than any other House candidate this cycle. Keene holds on by his money clip.
73rd District (Leans Republican)
*Donna Mayfield (R) vs. JoEllen Reed (D)
In 2010, Mayfield beat the Democratic incumbent with 53 percent of the vote, despite being outspent three times by her opponent. Her opponent Reed is again spending three times what Mayfield is, but there’s no reason to think that it will matter this time either.
76th District (Leans Democrat)
*Ruth Ann Palumbo (D) vs. Richard Marrs (R)
Palumbo easily defeated Marrs with 58 percent of the vote in 2010, but the House Republican Caucus is making a late financial push in the district, with Marrs spending almost four times what he did last time. Palumbo had not spent any money on her race as of two weeks ago, but has around $47,000 in the bank. Palumbo will get the scare of her life, but hold on in the solidly Democratic district.
79th District (Likely Democrat)
*Susan Westrom (D) vs. Chris Logan (R)
Republicans are also throwing late money into this Democratic district, but Westrom is much safer than Palumbo. Westrom still has twice the money, and Logan is known as a perennially failed council candidate.
88th District (Leans Republican)
Reginald Thomas (D) vs. Robert Benvenuti (R) (open Republican seat)
Retiring Bill Farmer held this seat without challenge for years, but Democrats are trying to snatch away the open seat. Thomas has a large money advantage, but Benvenuti has enough ads to prevent the conservative district from switching over.
91st District (Leans Democrat)
*Teddy Edmonds (D) vs. Gary Herald (R)
Edmonds only won 54 percent of the vote in 2010, but faces a more credible challenger this time around in Herald. Edmonds is spending very little, but Herald is spending almost three times less, so he should be able to avoid the upset.