By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Before Tuesday’s special election in the 56th House District, Republicans touted it as a forerunner to the 2014 election when Republicans hope to seize majority control from the Democrats.
After Democrat James Kay won fairly easily over Republican Lyen Crews and independent John-Mark Hack, it’s now Democrats who see the outcome as a favorable sign.
Democrats now hold a 55-45 margin in the lone remaining legislative chamber in the South which is controlled by Democrats. Had Crews won, Republicans would be within striking distance and they made no secret the race was the start of an effort to “flip the House” in 2014.
As part of their strategy Crews and the Republican Party used a favorite tactic of trying to link Kay to Democratic President Barack Obama and House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both of whom are unpopular in Kentucky.
“It didn’t work,” said Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, the House Caucus Chairman. “We’ll see if it works in 2014,” she added, smiling. Republicans were “the ones who said (the special election) set the tone for 2014 and I certainly hope they’re right.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said nationalizing state House races won’t work in 2014.
“People realize we’re Kentuckians and we’re not in agreement with Washington politics and we’re dealing with Kentucky issues,” Stumbo said Wednesday. “If you have a candidate like James Kay or like Lyen Crews, people know them and they know what they stand for in those communities. It’s kind of hard to make (voters) believe they are something they’re not.”
But the 56th District, which includes all of Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties, is hardly representative of all of Kentucky. It’s heavily Democratic in registration, better educated and more affluent than many districts, and is home to a lot of state workers who tend to be registered Democrats.
“It’s a Democratic district,” said Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, who is House Republican Whip and campaigned for Crews. “It’s only 33 percent Republican and (Crews) got 34 percent of the vote.”
But Carney seemed to acknowledge the strategy didn’t work as well in the 56th as Republicans hoped.
He wouldn’t reveal House Republican plans for 2014 but suggested Republicans will review the 56th District race as they plan for 2014.
“We’ll keep the playbook quiet right now,” Carney said, “but we’ll probably revisit the playbook, too.”
Carney remains optimistic about his party’s 2014 prospects when Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell will be on the top of the ticket. McConnell has already made plain he plans to campaign as much against Obama next year as against whomever is the Democratic nominee.
“We’re feeling very positive going forward for 2014,” Carney said.
State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said it’s still likely Republicans will try to capitalize on Obama’s unpopularity in Kentucky.
“I’m certain the Washington politics will attach to some of the races next year,” Stivers said, especially after Obama announced Tuesday he will take executive action to rein in carbon emissions which are generated from coal-burning power plants.
Stivers said that won’t play well in Kentucky which is dependent on coal for generating 90 percent of its electricity.
Stumbo countered that “comprehensive” polling in the 56th District indicated McConnell was more unpopular in that district than Obama, though he conceded the district may not reflect the attitudes of voters in other parts of the state, especially in coal fields.
But he still took a shot at McConnell after hearing Stivers’ comments about Obama’s announcement he’d move on climate change and carbon emissions.
“The shame of that is that we don’t have a United States senator who cares enough about his constituency in Kentucky to go to the president and make some sort of arrangement to keep those bad things from happening,” Stumbo responded. “An effective senator would’ve done that.”
The 2014 races won’t be decided until November of that year – but the campaign seems already to have begun.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.