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Democrats realistic on state Senate

GLASGOW — Before introducing the Republican candidate in the most hotly contested state legislative race in Kentucky, state Senate President David Williams summarized what he believes to be the main motivation of Kentucky Democrats.

"Their primary goal in life is to remove David Williams as president of the state Senate," he told about 100 Barren County voters Wednesday.

Democrats are indeed gunning for control of the state Senate. But nearly everyone agrees it won't happen next week.

Republicans outnumber Democrats 22 to 14 in the Senate, with one independent and an open seat in Lexington. Realistically, the best-case scenario for Democrats on Nov. 4 would be to knock off two incumbents and win a seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Richie Sanders of Franklin.

But even that net gain of three would leave Republicans with a 19-to-18 edge, plus one independent.

That's not going to happen, Williams said. "The districts we're running in are conservative districts," he said.

Jim Cauley, Gov. Steve Beshear's former chief of staff and a strategist for the Democratic Senate caucus, said the party will "be happy with a gain of one seat."

"To hold our two seats and net two seats — that would be a good day," he said.

One of the Democrats' chances to knock off a Republican incumbent is in far Western Kentucky's 1st District, where Sen. Ken Winters, the Senate education committee chairman, is seeking re-election. His Democratic challenger, former U.S. Rep. Carroll Hubbard, served time in prison 15 years ago for federal campaign finance violations.

In Northern Kentucky, Republican Sen. Jack Westwood has a rematch from 2004 with Democrat Kathy Groob, a party activist and businesswoman. Westwood won the 23rd District race four years ago by 6.6 percentage points.

This time, the two have spent a combined $500,000 on the race.

Groob has pressed Westwood on casino gambling, which is popular in Northern Kentucky. Westwood recently said he would vote to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to approve.

"I think what he said reflects what his district believes," said Williams, who opposes casinos. "He didn't discuss it with me. It's not my position."

One drops out

But the hottest state Senate race remains the open 9th District seat, where Democrat and Glasgow broadcaster Steve Newberry — brother of Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry — is battling Republican David Givens, an executive with Green River Cattle Co.

Both won tough primaries and have been highly regarded in the district, which covers Allen, Barren, Edmonson, Green, Metcalfe and Simpson counties.

The tone of the race changed, however, when the Republican Party of Kentucky began running ads linking Newberry to "liquor interests" and saying he pledged to bring a casino to the area.

Newberry said he personally opposes casinos and would vote only to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

But Newberry got a boost this week when independent candidate Gary Elliott dropped out to back him. Elliott said Thursday he was upset about the negative ads.

Givens said they "would have been less vitriolic and less personal" if he, not the GOP, had produced them.

He said that if he's elected, Williams has promised to split the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee into two and appoint him chairman of the agriculture panel.

Williams has made similar promises in other races, pledging to place Republican candidates Chuck Ellinger in Lexington and Tom Jones of Hopkinsville on the powerful Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which doles out state dollars.

Jones, a Christian County magistrate, is running against Democratic Senate Whip Joey Pendleton. The fight is bitter.

Pendleton has caught flak for allegedly billing Murray State University for consulting work while he was in Frankfort on legislative business. And Democrats have gone after Jones for voting for local tax increases.

Democrats also have had to play defense in southern Louisville, where Sen. Perry Clark has needed to scramble to fend off Republican Louisville Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins.

Other races of note include:

■ In Lexington, Ellinger is chasing Democratic Rep. Kathy Stein for the seat left open when Democrat Ernesto Scorsone became a judge.

■ Democratic Sen. Tim Shaughnessy of Louisville is seeking his sixth four-year term but must get past former Republican state Rep. Bob Heleringer.

■ Republican Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown raised more than $270,000 for his re-election bid in the 17th District against Democrat Robert Powell, retired from the state Department of Corrections.