Outside of the U.S. Senate race, the most strategic planning and handwringing at the parties’ headquarters will be spent over the mosaic of the state House races this fall.
More than half of the 100 state House Districts feature contested races with control of the lower chamber at stake in November.
As Republicans like to point out, the Kentucky House is the only state legislative chamber in the south that Democrats still control. They want to change that but will have to play tough defense to make that happen.
By and large, Democrats had a strong recruiting class of challengers, though there are fewer of them than Republican challengers taking on incumbents.
They are led by a particularly strong crop of women, many of whom have come through the Emerge Kentucky program that helps train Democratic women to run for office. The program particularly helps with teaching fundraising and campaign fund management, which explains why some of the Emerge graduates have not only out-raised their incumbent opponents but have spent only fractions of what they’ve raised before the primary election.
Of the 55 contested House races, 29 include incumbent Democrats and 20 feature sitting Republican lawmakers (one from each party faces an independent challenger – Democratic Rep. Martha Jane King of Lewisburg and Republican Rep. Tim Couch of Hyden).
The roster of fall races also includes a half-dozen battles for open seats thanks to redistricting, retirement or, in the case of GOP Rep. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, a campaign for state Senate.
And those open races feature several of the 10 most interesting races to start the general election season. Some of these races were forecasted just before the primary . Others got interesting after the primary elections. And still as many as two dozen other races have a chance to get very interesting down the stretch. But just as a starting point, here is a first batch of 10 to watch:
1. The 49th District (OPEN):
Mike Nemes, Republican, vs. Linda Belcher, Democrat — both from Shepherdsville
The Bullitt County District, which looks like a padlock, is anything but a lock for either party. This race features two former state House members who were both unseated in 2012. Belcher, whom Democratic leaders had in mind when they drew the district, lost her bid for a third term to Republican Russell Webber, who is running in the neighboring 26th District that straddles Bullitt and Hardin counties. Nemes, a one-term representive from south Louisville, moved to Bullitt County after his loss to Democrat Denny Butler in 2012. Bullitt County has been shifting more to the right in recent elections.
2. The 32nd District (OPEN):
Phil Moffett, Republican, vs. Ashley Miller, Democrat — both from Louisville
This had been a reliably Republican district in state House races for more than a decade. It’s a district held by Adams, who is running for state Senate, and Scott Brinkman before her. But Democrats have high hopes for contender in Ashley Miller, a nurse who is working on her Ph.D. in nursing and is a former Miss Kentucky. Miller and Republican Phil Moffett both have compelling personal stories. Both survived tough upbringings to thrive. Drug addiction plagued Miller’s family, while Moffett’s father was sentenced to life in prison for bank robbery. Moffett showed in his May 20 primary win that has name recognition from his 2011 run for governor as an insurgent tea party candidate. But Democrats will try to paint him as not moderate enough for the east Louisville district.
3. The 13th District:
Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro vs. Alan Braden, Republican from Owensboro
Glenn might as well have Jeff Probst come in to officiate the election because he has played the role of “Survivor” in each of his last two elections. He won by 251 votes in 2012 and 206 votes in 2010. The Republican who is aiming to snuff out Glenn’s political torch this time is Alan Braden, a financial analyst and former Owensboro city commissioner.
4. The 55th House District:
Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, vs. Jacqueline Coleman, Democrat from Nicholasville
King won the seat in 2010 by out-working the incumbent Democrat. She shows up seemingly everywhere in – and outside – of the district, which covers Mercer, Washington and western Jessamine counties. Jacqueline Coleman, a teacher in Jessamine County, will likely try to play up education issues. As the daughter of former Rep. Jack Coleman, she grew up in Mercer County politics and will have to rely on the base of Washington County Democrats to counterbalance conservatives in Jessamine County. Coleman has more than doubled King’s fundraising so far.
5. The 50th House District:
Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, vs. Audrey Haydon, Democrat from Bardstown
Like Coleman and Ashley Miller, Haydon is another Emerge Kentucky candidate who has been aggressively fundraising. Haydon, an attorney from Bardstown, has nearly five times as much cash on hand as Floyd with more than $34,311. Floyd, though, has easily won re-election in past races in the Nelson County district when his opponents and Democratic groups have out-spent him.
6. The 6th House District:
Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, vs. Keith Travis, Republican from Benton
Western Kentucky has been a tough place to be a Democratic House candidate lately with Republicans picking up three open seats in the Purchase Area in 2012. But those were all open seats. So Coursey is helped by the fact that he’s an incumbent (only one incumbent in the purchase area, Charles Geveden, has lost re-election in the last decade.) Coursey also is helped that he comes from one of the most reliably Democratic counties left in all of west Kentucky, Marshall County. Going against Coursey is the fact that he has been embroiled in dueling lawsuits that stem from a legislative staffer’s allegations that she was reassigned after complaining about comments Coursey made. He denies making any inappropriate comments. Secondly, Coursey is facing his toughest and best-funded Republican opponent yet in Keith Travis, an executive at Murray Calloway County Hospital.
7. The 3rd House District:
Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, vs. Randy Bridges, Republican from Paducah
Speaking of the Purchase Area, freshman Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, has a tough first re-election fight. Watkins faces Randy Bridges, a local realtor. Paducah has been shifting to the right like most of west Kentucky. But Watkins is one of the most conservative Democrats, having several times voted with Republicans on social issues in the 2014 session. Neither Watkins nor Bridges has raised much money yet. Both have brought in less than $8,000.
8. The 7th House District:
Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro vs. John Warren, Democrat
Another freshman with another tough test is Rep. Suzanne Miles, the Owensboro district representative for Congressman Brett Guthrie. Miles won a hard-fought special election to replace disgraced former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, who was resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. The Daviess County portion of the district came out heavily for Miles. That helped her overcome the Democratic voter advantage in Union and Henderson counties. But she has drawn a Daviess County Democrat in John Warren, a farmer whose father served as a county commissioner for two decades.
9. The 53rd House District (OPEN):
Kent Stevens, Democrat, vs. James Tipton, Republican from Taylorsville
With Republicans needing a net gain of five seats to wrest control from Democrats, no one race is going to determine the fate of the House. But this one could be as good of an early bellwether on Election Night as any. Stevens, a retired principal, is the former Democratic representative who lost to Kim King in 2010. All told, he is making his fifth bid for the state House and is one-for-four so far. Stevens won a three-way Democratic primary with all three candidates from Anderson County, which is not as reliably Democratic as it was a decade ago. James Tipton, a real estate agent and farmer, hails from Spencer County and didn’t have a primary. Republicans need Tipton to pick up the open seat, which is generally easier than knocking off incumbents.
10. The 91st House District:
Rep. Toby Herald, R-Beattyville, vs. Cluster Howard, Democrat from Jackson
About a dozen races could have nabbed the last spot in this initial list. It went to the 91st because Herald largely came out of nowhere two falls ago to unseat Democratic Rep. Teddy Edmonds, signaling anything could happen in this district, which has changed since then after redistricting. The new 91st stretches from Breathitt County through Owsley, Lee and Estill counties and even includes a few precincts in eastern Madison County. Herald faces Cluster Howard, a former coal company worker who is now a dean and student ombudsman at Hazard Community and Technical College.