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Legislative races draw 232 candidates

FRANKFORT — More than 230 Kentuckians have signed up to run for the state legislature, many of them motivated by heated debate over expanded gambling in recent months.

After a slew of last-minute filings on Tuesday, all but two of the state senators up for re-election this year face opposition, while 183 candidates filed Tuesday for the 100 state House seats up for grabs.

"The story today was just the quantity of filings," Secretary of State Trey Grayson said Tuesday just minutes after the 4 p.m. filing deadline. "It's hard to say that we are at an all-time record for filings, but we certainly increased the number of candidates. That's good for the voters."

Democrats hold a solid grip on the House, but the balance of power in the Republican-led Senate would teeter to Democrats if they pick up three seats.

The GOP holds a 20-17 margin in the Senate, with one independent who generally sides with the GOP. Of the 19 Senate seats up for election in 2010, Republicans hold 11.

In the Senate, 20 Democrats and 29 Republicans filed for the 19 seats — those in even-numbered districts — up for election. The House, with all 100 seats up for election, saw 91 Democratic and 92 Republican candidates file.

Only two incumbent senators — Republican Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon and Democrat Dorsey Ridley of Henderson — escaped with no opposition.

The controversial issue of allowing slots at racetracks seemed to attract several legislative candidates.

Patrick Neely, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, said his organization talked to more than 36 people for state legislative races this year.

"I think we got a lot of candidates Tuesday who will be supportive of the horse industry," he said. "We hope to identify all the candidates — Democrats and Republicans — who will support the horse industry."

Rick Hiles, head of the Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association and a Thoroughbred trainer, filed to run as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Julie Denton of Louisville.

In Lexington, veterinarian Andy Roberts is challenging GOP incumbent Alice Forgy Kerr in the Republican primary. He is critical of Kerr's anti-gambling stance. Former Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Sr., who also supports expanded gambling, has filed to run as a Democrat in Kerr's district, which represents Keeneland.

But Kent Ostrander, head of The Family Foundation in Lexington, said he is convinced legislative candidates know "the political danger in expanded gambling."

His group also will be identifying candidates who promote expanded gambling.

Wilmore businessman Chad Crouch, a Republican, said he filed against GOP incumbent Tom Buford of Nicholasville because Crouch opposes expanded gambling.

Buford voted for expanded gambling last year when the Senate budget committee killed a House bill that would have allowed video lottery terminals at state racetracks. Buford also recently contributed to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's re-election efforts.

Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah, the Senate's lone independent, drew both a Democratic and a Republican opponent, as he did when running for re-election four years ago.

Leeper, caucuses with the Senate Republicans and has opposed gambling legislation

"I think you're going to see a lot of money put in these races by pro-gambling folks," Leeper said.

Six of the 11 GOP-controlled Senate seats up for election will feature a primary race, including the open 20th District that covers Shelby, Spencer and Bullitt counties. Sen. Gary Tapp of Shelbyville is retiring.

Republicans have gone on the offense in six of the seven districts up for election that are now held by Democrats.

Republicans have set up a rematch in the 18th Senate District in northeastern Kentucky between Democrat Robin L. Webb of Grayson and Flatwoods dermatologist Jack Ditty, who narrowly lost to Webb in a special election last summer.

In Central Kentucky, Sen. R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, drew a general election fight. He awaits the winner of a three-way Republican primary.

The only other open seat — the 34th District in Madison, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties being vacated by Sen. Ed Worley, D-Richmond — attracted three Republicans and three Democrats for the May primary.

In the House, the Republican minority has gone on the offense. GOP candidates have lined up in 42 of the 64 seats held by Democrats, including three open seats: the 81st in Madison County, the 37th in Louisville and 10th in Hopkins County.

In contrast, Democratic candidates have created general election contests in 11 of the 35 Republican-held seats, including one that's being vacated by Rep. Scott Brinkman of Louisville and the 24th seat in southern Kentucky that was left open when that representative, Jimmy Higdon, won last month's special state Senate election.

Sixteen incumbent representatives —— 10 Democrats and six Republicans — have drawn challenges from candidates in their own parties.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the startling number of GOP candidates this cycle is "evidence of strong frustrations over what's going on in national politics."

Thirty-nine of the 100 House members drew no opposition.

Among those facing primary opposition in Central Kentucky are Democratic Reps. Sannie Overly of Paris, Richard Henderson of Jeffersonville and Royce Adams of Dry Ridge and Republicans Lonnie Napier of Lancaster, Jill York of Grayson and Bill Farmer of Lexington.

In Eastern Kentucky, former Pike County Judge-Executive Donna Damron, a Democrat, filed to run against Democratic incumbent Keith Hall of Phelps.