Republicans battling for right to challenge Democratic incumbents in two Lexington House districts

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMay 14, 2014 

  • 76th District Republicans

    Richard Marrs

    Party: Republican

    Born: July 20, 1967

    Residence: Lexington

    Education: Bachelor's degree in communications, University of Kentucky

    Occupation: Advertising agency owner

    Family: Wife, Melanie; four children, ages 10 (twins), 12 and 16

    Lavinia Theodoli Spirito

    Party: Republican

    Born: May 9, 1956

    Residence: Lexington

    Education: Bachelor's degree in anthropology and Spanish, University of Michigan; law degree, University of Kentucky College of Law

    Occupation: Attorney

    Family: Husband, Michael A. Spirito; 2 daughters, 22 and 19

    Website: Spirito76.com

FRANKFORT — In their quest to take over the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921, Republicans are eyeing two state House seats in Fayette County.

Republicans Richard Marrs and Lavinia Theodoli Spirito will battle in the May 20 primary to take on Democratic Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo in November in east-central Lexington's 76th District.

In south-central Lexington's 79th District, Urban County Councilman George Myers and Ken Kearns II face each other in next week's GOP primary to decide who will challenge Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom this fall.

In recent years, Republicans have inched within five seats of regaining the majority in the House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 54-46. Knocking off the entrenched Reps. Palumbo and Westrom in their Democratic-leaning districts will be difficult for Republicans, but they see it as a possibility.

Of the six House seats contained entirely within Lexington, three incumbents — Palumbo, Westrom and Republican Robert Benvenuti — will have challengers in November.

Democrat Creasa Reed, a Lexington health advocate, filed to challenge Benvenuti in Lexington's 88th District.

In the 77th District, the winner of a Democratic primary between former Urban County Councilman George Brown Jr. and Fayette County Magistrate Michael Haskins will replace Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, who is not seeking re-election. No Republican filed for the race.

Republican Rep. Stan Lee in the 45th District and Democrat Rep. Kelly Flood in the 75th District drew no opponents.

Here's a closer look at the two Republican House primary elections this spring in Lexington:

76th District

This year marks the third time that Marrs, who runs an advertising firm, has sought Palumbo's House seat. He lost to Palumbo by 20 percentage points in 2010 and by about 10 points in 2012.

In this year's GOP primary, he faces a rematch with Spirito, a lawyer.

Marrs said he thinks he is building name recognition in the district. "No one has methodically challenged Ruth Ann over the years," he said. Palumbo joined the House in 1991.

Marrs said he tells voters he is a strong fiscal conservative, which would help him deal with the state budget and pension problems. He said he was outspent nearly 8-1 by Spirito two years ago but defeated her, 1,049 votes to 624 votes.

The latest campaign finance reports with the state Registry of Election Finance show that Spirito has raised $10,457 for this year's race, compared to about $8,000 for Marrs.

Spirito said her campaign is better organized than the one she ran in 2012.

"I really feel I'm the better candidate," she said. "I'm a businesswoman; I have much experience in practicing law for 30 years and am familiar with the problems seen in family court."

Spirito said she is advocating change for the district, which is represented by the longest-serving woman in the legislature.

"I believe the incumbent has been there too long," she said of Palumbo, and that three or four two-year terms in the state House is long enough for anyone.

The district is 57 percent Democratic. There are 177,741 Democrats in the district, compared to 9,964 Republicans (32 percent) and 3,441 other (11 percent.).

79th District

Neither Kearns nor Myers responded to repeated requests by the Herald-Leader for an interview.

Their latest campaign finance reports filed with the state showed Kearns' receipts at $20,545 and Myers at $3,025.

In the district, Democrats outnumber Republicans 17,632 to 11,254, or 54 percent to 35 percent. A total of 3,594 registered voters in the district — about 11 percent — are with other parties.

Westrom has represented the district since 1999.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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