WASHINGTON — The race to represent Kentucky's 5th Congressional District is a repeat match between a politically powerful Republican incumbent with a substantial war chest and a Democratic political neophyte with meager coffers and virtually no financial support from his party.
Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset, known for steering federal money toward projects in his district, may well be on his way to a 16th term.
Rogers, 72, had raised more than $500,000 as of the June campaign finance filing deadline — much of that donated by the defense industry, an effort aided by connections he made while once serving as the first chairman of the House subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, Democratic challenger James "Jim" Holbert, 58, an emergency medical services helicopter pilot from London who is serving as his own campaign treasurer, has struggled to scrape together $10,000 for his grass-roots bid.
During the 2008 election, Rogers netted 84 percent of the vote against Holbert, who appears to stand an equally slim chance of winning this year.
"I have had no support from either our state or Democratic National Committee. It was not their idea for me to run." Holbert said. "I'm disgusted that the party hasn't given me support and I'm disgusted that the party hasn't paid attention to these issues."
If elected, Holbert said he won't "carry the water" for President Barack Obama or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"I'm standing up for what is right," he said.
Rogers is relying on heavy name recognition and decades of project funding to win re-election in the Eastern Kentucky district known for high poverty rates.
For example, the Daniel Boone Parkway was renamed the Hal Rogers Parkway in honor of the congressman's efforts to have the federal government pay the parkway's construction bonds.
He also was instrumental in the creation and funding of myriad programs aimed at luring employers to the region, promoting agriculture development, beefing up tourism and battling drug abuse.
Rogers sits on the powerful House Appropriations committee, which helps decide how federal money is spent. This fiscal year he sponsored or co-sponsored 50 earmarks totaling $93.4 million, ranking 10th out of the 435 representatives in the amount earmarked, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rogers has sponsored 35 bills since 1987, 21 of which haven't made it out of committee and seven of which were successfully enacted, according to GovTrack, which tracks the progress of legislation. During the same time period, Rogers co-sponsored 1,152 bills.
He currently is sponsoring a measure designed to prevent the federal government from spending money on policies that hurt coal mine operations.
The bill, which Rogers said would end the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to stop coal "dead in its tracks," was referred to the House Natural Resources committee.
"This administration is trying to shut down coal and fire all of you," Rogers told a gathering of several hundred cheering miners at a pro-coal rally in Washington last month. "First it was cap and tax ... which would drive Kentucky coal and Appalachian coal out of business. Then they came up with the EPA's power grab to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Then finally strangulation by regulation. There are dozens and dozens of mine permits this administration is saying no to simply by not acting."
Holbert sees himself as the solution to what he calls Rogers' "30 years as the standard bearer for policies that failed," including Bush administration energy policies.
"The energy policies I stand for is that we strongly need America's fossil fuel resources to liberate ourselves from Middle East oil dependence and to bridge our country into new energy sources," Holbert said. "The concern with the EPA regulating and Congress making laws is a focus on the symptom and not the disease. The disease is we have to figure out what to do about coal."
Holbert said he wants to "meet in the middle" with coal operators who sometimes "want to rip every resource out of the ground" and environmentalists "who would turn this district into an economic wasteland."