3 expect to shake up Senate race by winning

They might barely register in the polls. They don't get big campaign donations — except from themselves — and their TV time is mainly courtesy of YouTube.

They don't care.

The three lesser-known Democratic candidates — James Buckmaster, Darlene Price and Maurice Sweeney — in the U.S. Senate primary all show boundless optimism.

It's not a question of whether they get through the May 18 primary. It's a question of how they run their campaign leading up to November after they score a surprise knockout of Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway, who have statewide name recognition and huge war chests.

"Once we get past May, we will at that point have the attention of the nation," says Sweeney. "... When I go across the state, there's a lot of indecision about whom people are going to support."

If Sweeney, Price or Buckmaster are to catch fire at the polls, they'll need to do it soon.

Sweeney's speech at the Fancy Farm political picnic last year has drawn only 155 views on YouTube; his Facebook online social networking group numbers 234.

Darlene Fitzgerald Price

Of the three lesser-known candidates, Price probably has the most name recognition around Lexington, courtesy of her extensive speaking schedule and her "Price Is Right" yard signs. The Army veteran and former U.S. customs agent in the western United States says she met 16,000 people at the Kentucky State Fair.

The native Kentuckian, who grew up in Fort Thomas and McCreary County, also manned a booth at the recent Lexington home and garden show at Heritage Hall and Rupp Arena. She also says that she spent three weeks walking the Louisville area and that her campaign has enrolled 4,000 volunteers.

Price says that she left her job as a customs agent because of a whistle-blower controversy and that "the drugs rolling across the border are like water through a sieve." She has co-authored, with Peter S. Ferrara, a book about her experiences, BorderGate: The Story the Government Doesn't Want You to Read.

"There's no protection for federal whistle blowers," she says. "None."

She is for government-sponsored health insurance, against mountaintop-removal coal mining "because it is unnecessary," and against the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Price is particularly adamant about health care. When she got into the race, she said, "I will not talk to the .... evil blood-sucking vampire insurance companies."

What Price, 48, sees as the rot of the Washington political process is attributable to one thing: "the disease (of) crony campaign financing." That's one of her main reasons for running, she says, because such financing affects so much else throughout the federal government, from lawmaking to everyday government operations such as border patrols.

Price's campaign stands are a blend of populism, a conviction that the nation's borders are being compromised and a loathing of the campaign processes she says have tainted government.

Price says she has spent $25,000 to $30,000 of her own money on her campaign. Still, she says, "If I won $30 billion in the lottery tomorrow, you wouldn't see a mud-slinging ad from me. ... If you have to be a bought-off mudslinging politician to run in this race, I'm going to lose."

James Buckmaster

Buckmaster, a Henderson doctor who runs a family practice, touts his endorsement from Kentucky Right to Life and says he works with the medically uninsured and underinsured all day.

Buckmaster, 51, who has eight children ages 9 to 26, says he has a "Volkswagen policy" rather than a Cadillac policy for his own family's health care: "The ones with the Cadillac insurance are the reasons why the prices are going so high."

He thinks that the policy would be a good model for nationwide health care — a high deductible, no exclusions and portability when a worker leaves a job. Medical care that is free, he says, leads to waiting rooms full of all kinds of conditions that could have waited. His plan would be to get medical consumers to search for bargains: Who has the cheapest chest X-ray, the least expensive CAT scan?

On other issues, he says the federal government should create an environment more conducive to marriage, including public service announcements that urge couples to stay together.

He says that cap and trade — in which a cap is set on nationwide emissions and a trade creates a market for carbon allowances — "is based on bad science, the science of global warming."

And he favors slashing corporate taxes in an effort to stimulate the economy: "To create a job in the private sector, you have to have a company that's making profits to support that employee."

He says he favors controlling government spending and reducing the national debt. Buckmaster says that voters should stop saying, "What did you bring us?" and instead say, "What did you pay off?"

Buckmaster says he has spent about $30,000 of his own money on his campaign: "It's been tough. I don't have the breathing room the other guys have."

His Web site gives a succinct explanation of why he's running: "I see the working poor sacrificing everything they have worked so hard for and then watch the professional politicians waste it, waste it with little or no remorse. I'm not listening to them anymore."

Maurice Sweeney

Sweeney, 55, of Jefferson County, grew up in a farming family, has organized local human rights commissions across the state, and created and founded the Kentucky state government management trainee program. He also has served on a variety of community boards and was a delegate to the 1992 Democratic convention.

He says his lack of previous elected office is a boon: "People say there's going to be a backlash on career politicians." And Sweeney, the owner of a land survey business, says he's running as an example for other Kentuckians armed with only the power of their ideas who might fear taking on well-funded incumbents.

Sweeney criticizes opponents who, he says, think connecting with working-class voters means taking off a necktie: "The fact is, they couldn't even start a lawn mower. ... I know how to work. I know what milk is costing at Kroger. I know what it is to cut your own yard."

He favors health care reform but says he would have identified those who don't have health care and spread them out among the various insurance carriers.

He says cap and trade "is inevitable" and thinks Kentucky's reliance on the coal economy is on the decline.

Sweeney favors term limits and would allow only two terms in the Senate: "If you look at (U.S. Sen. Robert) Byrd in West Virginia and some of these other folks, they're not effective. ... Don't use me and my tax dollars so that you can play leapfrog."

Sweeney says he would improve education by supporting federal legislation to bring Kentucky's teacher salaries equal to the national average, improve funding for K-12, add research dollars for colleges and universities, encourage the expansion of Pell Grants and forgivable loans for college students, and increase funding for vocational education.

Sweeney says he has put about $100,000 of his own money into his campaign. While Sweeney says he considers himself a "fiscally conservative person," he's no friend of the Tea Party movement: "They want to talk about the unborn, but they care about them very little once they're here."

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