Political Paddock: Ky. Republicans bullish about retaking House

syoungman@herald-leader.comJanuary 27, 2014 

In 1921, Basil Hayden was an All-American Kentucky Wildcat and not yet a small-batch bourbon.

Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize, Behave Yourself won the Kentucky Derby, Adolf Hitler became head of the National Socialist German Workers Party and Adolph Rupp was almost a decade away from becoming the coach at the University of Kentucky.

It was also the last year that Republicans held control of the Kentucky House.

Republicans, buoyed by a dwindling 54-46 Democratic majority and what looked like a come-from-behind win in a December special election, think 2014 is the year they finally take back the House.

Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, stopped short of predicting a return to glory for his party, but he said his side's recruitment has been strong and they are looking at defending or targeting more than 70 seats in the lower chamber.

"I'm sure on our side and the other side there are probably still some individuals out there who are still mulling it over," Robertson said. "But from what I'm seeing so far, it looks like we're having a pretty good performance out there."

As of Monday afternoon, just less than 600 people had filed to run for office in Kentucky, and, if tradition holds, Tuesday's 4 p.m. candidate filing deadline will bring with it some surprises.

And while Kentucky has been a 21st Century electoral anomaly, sending Republicans to Washington and Democrats to Frankfort, Robertson and other state Republicans believe that federal red is dripping down-ballot.

"I think that tendency is now starting to flow downward," Robertson said.

Democrats believe things will go the other way, pointing to likely Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes' position atop the ticket and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's anemic approval ratings.

With Grimes leading the way, Democrats will expand their margin in the Kentucky House, said Dan Logsdon, chairman and executive director of the Kentucky Democratic Party. However, he stopped short of following House Speaker Greg Stumbo in saying Democrats would pick up seven seats.

Logsdon pointed to Gov. Steve Beshear's approval numbers as an asset for Democrats this year, adding, "I don't think you can overstate the governor's popularity."

Of course, Beshear appeared in-person on behalf of the Democrat in a special House election last December in Western Kentucky, organized to replace former state Rep. John Arnold amid allegations of sexual harassment, and a Republican took the seat.

Robertson said that result had to be a "wake-up call" for Democrats.

"The other side thought it was a done deal," Robertson said. "And then the night of the election, everyone's scratching their heads, saying, 'What just happened here?'"

Logsdon dismissed the special election's bellwether status, noting the snow and ice that hit Western Kentucky around the election and adding, "They had everything going for them, even the weather, and couldn't beat us by more than 112 votes."

"I think for us to lose an election by 112 votes in a district that Mitt Romney won by 30 percent at the height of Washington's health care debacle speaks to how strong of a party we are," Logsdon said. "If that election had been a week later, we would've won. If it had been a week before, we would've won."

Snowy special elections notwithstanding, Robertson has another reason to be optimistic.

A survey by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling group earlier this month showed Republicans leading Democrats 44 percent to 36 percent in a generic state House ballot. Should those numbers hold true in November, look for Democrats to reach for Basil Hayden — the bourbon, not the baller.

But Logsdon hinted Monday that Democrats have some surprises in store for their opponents.

"I think when they see some of the incumbents that we're going to be challenging, it's going to throw them off-kilter," Logsdon said.

Political Paddock includes Sam Youngman's observations from the campaign trail. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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