PIKEVILLE — Dissatisfaction with the economic decisions of incumbents may have resulted in the large percentage of newcomers running for the state House, but it's still nearly impossible to oust an incumbent, experts said.
Of the 14 House incumbents challenged in Tuesday's primary, two had fallen at press time: Democrat Ancel "Hard Rock" Smith of Leburn in Knott County lost to a Knott County magistrate, John W. Short of Hindman. Republican Charlie Siler of Williamsburg in Whitley County lost to teacher Dewayne Bunch, also of Williamsburg.
Short will face Republican Ruby Edward Couch of Mallie in Knott County for the 92nd District seat. No one else has filed to run in the 82nd District, which covers Whitley and part of Laurel County.
Smith spent enough time in the House to make enemies across county lines in the 92nd District, which covers Knott and Magoffin counties and part of Letcher, said Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe. Those enemies banded together against Smith this year, Briscoe said.
In races closer to Fayette County, incumbent Sannie Overly, a Democrat from the 72nd District in Fayette, Bath, Bourbon and Nicholas counties, handily beat her opponent Dwaine Curran.
In a surprise in Lexington's 45th District primary, Matthew Vanderpool, a 24-year-old with no college degree, beat a patent lawyer and Air Force veteran in a race to challenge incumbent Republican state Rep. Stan Lee.
Michael Coblenz, 50, raised $6,000 to winner Vanderpool's $150, according to campaign finance reports. Vanderpool said he didn't buy a single yard sign or ad.
"It was just a shock for us to win this," said Vanderpool.
Vanderpool works for Tempur-Pedic and J. Peterman and has attended Bluegrass Community and Technical College. In 2003, Vanderpool was seriously injured in a boating accident, putting his education on hold. He plans to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall, though he will probably attend only part-time so he can campaign.
Coblenz was stunned and wondered whether the fact that Vanderpool's name appearing first on the ballot had anything to do with his win.
"It's more surprising than disappointing," he said, acknowledging that either man would have a hard time beating Lee.
Vanderpool attributed his win to "talking to everyone I meet and being very accessible to people."
Ryan Quarles beat Ricky Hostetler in the Republican race for the 62nd House District, which includes Scott and Fayette counties. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Rep. Charlie Hoffman.
Political newcomers have a disadvantage not only because of name recognition, but also because dissatisfied voters tend to blame the legislative body, but defend their own representative.
"Even when voters are angry at the incumbents, they often end up going with them," UK political science professor Donald Gross said.
The General Assembly will hold a special session starting May 24 to consider Gov. Steve Beshear's budget so incumbents will have to figure out at what point voters start to blame individual legislators, Gross said.
Overly said a special session later this month doesn't worry her.
"They're close to reaching a resolution," she said.
The power of incumbency is magnified in Eastern Kentucky, where voters are particularly loyal and forgiving of criticism, Briscoe said, as long as a legislator can bring home money for projects.
"When you're putting water lines and sewer lines to people in those mountain counties, that's pretty important. That goes pretty far," said Briscoe, who has worked for Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, who won nomination again Tuesday, and for Donna Damron, a former Pike County judge-executive who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Rep. W. Keith Hall, D-Phelps.