, Corbin, KY


June 30, 2014

Early election intrigue

CORBIN — Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

FRANKFORT — Let’s look at some things other than the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. (A year ago, reporters couldn’t wait to cover that race; we’re already weary of it.)

Everyone expected crowded primaries for next year’s gubernatorial election. Maybe not. Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen opted out last week, leaving Attorney General Jack Conway the only declared Democrat in the race at least for now. Edelen cited family concerns, and no doubt those are real. But Edelen also had to be looking at polls which show Conway with extraordinarily high name recognition and at Conway’s head-start on fundraising.

Former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo is reportedly considering the race but he’s said he won’t get in until after the November elections because of his party’s need to concentrate on electing Grimes and retaining control of the state House of Representatives. But that means Conway, who can raise lots of money and can also contribute heavily to his own campaign, should have a large campaign war chest before Mongiardo even gets in.

Mongiardo lost the 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate primary to Conway because he didn’t have enough money to compete with Conway on the airwaves in the days leading up to the election. For three weeks, Mongiardo was absent from the airwaves while Conway pounded him in ads. Mongiardo lost narrowly. If he’d had another $300,000 for television ads Mongiardo might have won. By November, Mongiardo may conclude he doesn’t want to re-live that scenario.

Speculation continues that Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo might get in after November. Proving I never learn (see the opening lines of this column), a Stumbo candidacy would be terrific fun to cover. But my guess is he doesn’t do it.

It’s almost universally believed Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer will join Louisville millionaire developer Hal Heiner in the Republican primary. Former U.S. ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey of Louisville seems interested, but my guess again is that in the end she doesn’t get in. If we end up with a Comer-Heiner one-on-one race, I don’t know how competitive it will be — but it will certainly highlight splits in the Republican Party of Kentucky and (really — I never learn) that could be fun to watch.

So the 2015 gubernatorial primaries may not be as crowded as most people believe.

There’s another big election in Kentucky this year — the battle for control of the House where Democrats have an eight-seat majority. Republicans think this is their year and it may be. But Stumbo and Democrats say they recruited better first-time candidates and will retain their majority.

If they do, they’ll probably owe their good fortune to women and specifically to Emerge Kentucky, the organization which recruits and trains Democratic women to seek political office. There are eight Emerge graduates running for House seats for the first time and several are given a healthy chance of winning. Among those to watch are Audrey Haydon of Bardstown, Ashley Miller and Gretchen Hunt of Louisville, and Jacqueline Coleman of Nicholasville.

Democrats are also counting on Grimes’ supporters to boost their own chances and suddenly another Emerge graduate, Elisabeth Jensen, is drawing attention to her challenge to Republican Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr.

If women candidates save House Democrats’ collective hide when the “good old boys club” is under fire over allegations of sexual harassment against a former Democratic House member, it’ll be hard for those good old boys to deny giving women more power in the House.

That might be an even bigger seismic shift than Republicans taking over the House.

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