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10 Ky. races to watch down the stretch

Ryan Alessi
Ryan Alessi

With just a month left before the Nov. 4 election, Kentucky's U.S. Senate race and two of its congressional races have made it onto national political observers' radar screens.

The Washington-based Rothenberg Report recently gave Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell just a "narrow advantage" over Democrat Bruce Lunsford and said "we would not argue with anyone who rated the contest as a Toss-Up."

And while Kentuckians won't have many state legislative races to decide this fall, some of the contests in play are expected to be pretty interesting down the stretch.

So here's a peek into 10 Kentucky campaigns that, four weeks from Election Day, look to be the most interesting, based on the competitiveness, level of campaign activity and compelling story lines of the contests:

1. U.S. Senate: Most poll numbers had showed the chances of Lunsford, a millionaire Louisville businessman, knocking off McConnell were slim ... until recently. McConnell has seemingly taken a hit from the recent financial turmoil and has seen his poll numbers dip even though Lunsford has done little to hammer McConnell on economic issues. Now the nation is tuning in.

2. 2nd Congressional District: Kentucky's only open congressional seat — caused by Republican Rep. Ron Lewis's retirement — has produced a match-up of dueling state senators.

Republican state Sen. Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green wasn't well known in the Elizabethtown or Owensboro areas of the district. But by July he had amassed more than $660,000 to run commercials to boost his profile.

Longtime Democratic state Sen. David Boswell of Owensboro was better known after serving in public office for 30 years but was slow to raise money. Now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged $840,000 worth of TV time to help.

3. 9th State Senate District: This open seat, created by the retirement of GOP Sen. Richie Sanders, represents Democrats' most likely chance to pick up a seat in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold an eight-seat advantage.

Democrat Steve Newberry, a broadcaster and brother of Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry, faces Republican David Givens, a farm supply and cattle company owner. Both are relative newcomers to the state political scene and both have been working hard.

4. 3rd Congressional District: It's a rematch of 2006 between freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and former five-term U.S. Rep. Anne Northup in the Louisville district. Yarmuth should get a boost from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has generated excitement in Louisville. But it's unclear whether Yarmuth will take a hit for first voting against and then voting in favor of the $700 billion financial bailout bill last week.

5. 23rd State Senate District: Republican state Sen. Jack Westwood of Crescent City faces a rematch from 2004 with Kathy Groob, a Democratic activist with a public relations background. Gov. Steve Beshear has been in Northern Kentucky to campaign with Groob, but the area remains conservative.

6. 1st State Senate District: Carroll Hubbard, a former congressman who was sent to federal prison for campaign law violations, is trying for the second straight election to win a Senate seat. He lost a three-way race in 2006 for the 2nd District seat in Paducah. He has since moved to Graves County, where he's challenging first-term Sen. Ken Winters, a Murray Republican.

7. 37th State Senate District: The incumbent Democratic senator who might have the most to worry about is Sen. Perry Clark in this south Louisville district. It's a blue-collar, independent-thinking district that has a choice between two slightly eccentric candidates: Clark, who won the seat in a 2006 special election, and Republican Doug Hawkins, a Louisville councilman who has been campaigning fervently.

8. 49th State House District: House Democrats are looking to add to their majority by picking up at least two open seats vacated by retiring Republicans. But the Democratic incumbent who faces the stiffest opposition is Rep. Larry Belcher of Shepherdsville, who is challenged by Shepherdsville councilwoman Trina Summers, who has worked hard and raised the most money of any GOP House challenger this spring.

9. 13th State Senate District: With twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, it's a tough district for GOP candidate Chuck Ellinger II to win. Democratic candidate Kathy Stein's internal campaign poll showed she led Ellinger 55 percent to 33 percent with 12 percent undecided at the end of September. But it's caught the attention of at least one anonymous conservative group that began making automated phone calls to voters criticizing Stein on Friday.

10. 19th State Senate District: This Louisville district is another tough one for a Republican to win. But for Democratic Sen. Tim Shaughnessy to win a sixth term, he'll have to get past former Republican state Rep. Bob Heleringer, whose infamous sense of humor is surpassed only by his work ethic.

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