Special election portends full recyclers next year

Larry Dale Keeling
Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — Conventional wisdom placed great advance significance on Tuesday's special election in the 56th House District.

It was viewed as an opportunity for both parties to hone their messages and their GOTV (get out the vote) skills and for the winning party to gain momentum going forward into 2014, when all 100 House seats will be on the ballot.

For the most part, the contest lived up to billing. As a resident of the district, I can assure you Democrat James Kay, Republican Lyen Crews and Independent John-Mark Hack (as well as a few super PACs) got their messages to the voters.

The number of flyers in the daily mail or stuck in the doorway made me very grateful for a large recycling bin the garbage folks empty regularly.

And a turnout of nearly 29 percent in a special election speaks to some serious GOTV work by everyone.

However, Kay's win didn't tell me diddly about momentum or the 2014 elections other than they're going to be noisy, negative and very filling for recycling bins. Maybe it's because I'm not always conventional or particularly wise and think conventional wisdom often can be defined as the thought someone expressed yesterday circling the Capitol echo chamber several times before bouncing back to them today, but a Democratic hold in a district with a large population of public employees and retirees who have been sending Democrats to the House for as long as I can remember is still just a Democratic hold to me.

If Republicans had successfully flipped the seat, then you could talk about momentum. And Speaker Greg Stumbo could start composing some gracious remarks to make while handing over the gavel to Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover.

For if there ever comes a day a Democrat can't win the 56th District, the party will be on the endangered species list in Kentucky.

That said, both the Kay campaign and the party threw more than money, flyers and media advertising into the race.

Volunteers walked my neighborhood on his behalf virtually every day of the week leading up to the election and returned on Election Day to make sure people voted. I assume the same thing was happening throughout the district. It was reminiscent of what I've read about President Barack Obama's campaigns in states he targeted. Living in Kentucky, I naturally have no firsthand knowledge of an Obama campaign since he and Kentucky voters wrote each other off long ago.

However, generating the kind of effort the Kay campaign and the party put into this special election was way easier than replicating it statewide will be in 2014, which is what Democrats need to do if they want to have any chance of retaining control of the House.

They also need to have a well-financed, viable candidate keeping U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell occupied with his own re-election. Because if he's running free, Stumbo may want to get an early start on drafting those remarks.

Which brings me to the question: Will she, or won't she? And if you have to ask who I mean, welcome to the Bluegrass State, stranger.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.