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Senate control at the heart of Tuesday's special election

FRANKFORT — Some Central Kentucky voters will go to the polls Tuesday in a special election that could help determine which political party controls the state Senate and the fate of expanded gambling at racetracks.

Gov. Steve Beshear, who is backing Democrat Jodie Haydon over Republican Jimmy Higdon in the race to represent Kentucky's 14th Senate District, said he is cautious about the election's outcome. He does not consider the race, which could become the state's most expensive legislative election, a referendum on gambling, his governorship or Republican Senate President David Williams.

Beshear also said he has no problem with the huge sums of money a horse industry group is pouring into the race. The group, Keep Our Jobs in Kentucky, does not have to publicly report its donors and expenses until next year.

The race between Haydon, a former state representative from Bardstown, and Higdon, an incumbent state representative from Lebanon, will determine the next senator for Marion, Mercer, Nelson, Taylor and Washington counties.

The winner will replace Republican Dan Kelly of Springfield, who resigned in October to accept a Beshear appointment to a circuit judgeship. Beshear called the special election to fill the remainder of Kelly's term.

If Haydon wins, the Republicans would hold a 19-to-18 majority in the Senate, with one independent.

Should Democrats gain control of the Senate or if any Republicans sided with the Democrats, the Senate could approve electronic slot machines at racetracks.

Also, Williams, who opposes expanded gambling, could be toppled from power.

Beshear, in an interview with reporters Monday, said a Haydon victory would give Democrats one more vote in the Senate, but "it doesn't give us the number of votes you need to change the Senate leadership's thinking."

Despite the race's statewide implications, Beshear said he expects a low turnout for a "difficult election."

"Most of those elections are decided on local issues for the most part," he said. "We certainly are working hard and we hope we win it, but that is a district that has been represented by a Republican for 20 years."

Beshear said he considered the race to be close.

Williams said he thinks Higdon's chances of winning are very good. He said voters tend to side with candidates they like, "and people in the district consider Jimmy Higdon a likable, hard-working fellow."

The Courier-Journal reported Sunday that Keep Our Jobs in Kentucky has spent almost $300,000 on television ads in Lexington and Louisville to help Haydon in the race. The newspaper said the amount was based on a review of TV stations' records.

As a non-profit formed under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, the group won't have to disclose its donations and expenses until it files a tax return early next year.

Beshear said the disclosure rules for such groups "are adequate as they are."

"It wouldn't bother me if the federal government changed the rules and made them report more often than they do. But those are federal laws," Beshear said.

State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, has pre-filed a bill for consideration during the 2010 General Assembly to require such groups to disclose during campaigns how much money they have raised and spent.

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