What did the legislative session tell us about November?

Herald-Leader Political writer,By Sam YoungmanApril 1, 2014 

Lawmakers discussed the budget bill on the floor of the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on March 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

There was shouting. There was no doubt partisan bickering. There were interjections by a likely presidential candidate.

There was even a gunshot.

But after three months of legislative back-and-forth, the terrain for the November elections and the almost century-old Republican quest to win control of Kentucky's statehouse is relatively unchanged.

While the issues that Republicans and Democrats will run on from now until November were more clearly defined by the session, they were mostly issues we already knew about.

To Democrats, that means moving the election to Groundhog Day because Republicans will — surprise — be making Obamacare central to their strategy for retaking the House.

But we've known that for a while.

"We were going to see that regardless of what happened this session," said Dan Logsdon, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

Republicans worked like crazy to get Democrats to vote on President Barack Obama's health-care law. They didn't have a lot of success, but not much was needed to record the 30-second ads Kentuckians will see this fall telling them that Democrats voted for Obamacare.

While Logsdon said he thinks Republicans were "outmaneuvered" during the budget process and denied the show-votes they craved, he conceded that most of the session was about checking boxes with the folks at the core of both parties.

"I don't think they laid a glove on us," Logsdon said. "We scored some points with our base, and they scored some points with their base."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that he doesn't think the session was a "defining moment" for the elections.

Stumbo has been bullish on Democrats' hopes of not just maintaining their majority but expanding it.

If anything that came out of the session helps Democrats, Stumbo said, it's the way both parties came together to pass a budget with a relatively small amount of partisan battling.

"I think that anytime that the system works in this day and age, it is a plus for incumbents," Stumbo said. "And by working out a budget and by working across party lines and being able to do what people want us to do — and that is to solve problems — I think that is a plus for incumbents on both sides."

Republicans, by and large, agree that the parameters of the fall contest did not change much during the session, and they say that's good for their prospects.

Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said that the same old, same old will be a boon to the GOP.

If there was one misstep by Democrats that could cost them, it was the ill-fated push for a gasoline tax that would've paid for road projects.

That should make for easy money for Republican ad-makers. Nuance is campaign cancer, and when a candidate is explaining, he's usually losing.

Rarely is that more clear than when Democrats are forced to defend efforts to raise taxes — no matter where they're coming from or what they're paying for.

It's just far easier to run an ad that says someone voted to raise taxes than it is to film a spot explaining the intricacies of the vote.

Stumbo and Logsdon both say the issue will backfire if Republicans push it. Logsdon noted that in Kentucky "we love our roads," and Stumbo said "it's easy to counter" that Republicans are beholden to oil companies. Republicans may see the issue as a way to portray Democrats as the status quo, and the status quo as taxing-and-spending.

"The approach to fiscal issues that Democrats have demonstrated did not change," Robertson said. "They still tried to take more taxpayer money, and they still tried to spend more."

Be it Obamacare, taxes, spending, gay marriage or abortion, Robertson said that what Kentuckians saw from Democrats is "the same old song and dance."

"They've reaffirmed everything we have campaigned against them in the past," Robertson said. "They've reaffirmed it all."

When asked how the outcome will be different than in past elections, Robertson said Republicans have been chipping away at the majority, and this could be the year that their efforts put them over the top.

"It's not a function of if we take the majority," he said. "It's a function of when we take the majority."

We're still a ways off from knowing how many races will be tightly contested and whether that number constitutes enough seats for Republicans to retake the House.

But both Stumbo and Robertson seem to agree that ultimately the elections will not be as much about Frankfort as much as they will be about a Washington politician.

They just disagree on which one.

"The big problem they're going to have is a guy named Mitch McConnell," Stumbo said. "And they're going to have to defend Mitch McConnell, and I don't know if you can defend Mitch McConnell or not."

Stumbo believes that McConnell will be for Republicans what Obama has been for Kentucky Democrats in the last two cycles — a major drag.

But Robertson said he thinks Democrats will continue to suffer because they share the same "D" behind their name as Obama.

Republican candidates and outside groups, Robertson said, will be "talking a lot about this president's policies and whether Kentuckians want to make it harder for Barack Obama or easier for Barack Obama."

McConnell will be driving the attempt to connect Democrats, namely Alison Lundergan Grimes, to Obama, and doing so with an enormous financial war chest.

Said Robertson, "That obviously complements the environment."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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