You deserve congratulations if you can identify both major party contenders. Know just one of them? Not bad. Completely clueless? Don't be too hard on yourself. Most Kentuckians are probably in the same boat.
This is shaping up as a status quo election as far as Kentucky's congressional delegation is concerned. All seven incumbents on the ballot appear safe, which is somewhat surprising since Congress is supposedly so unpopular. Here is a look at the state's U. S. Senate race and the House races in the First, Second, and Third Districts.
The Senate race has a high national profile and is sucking up most of the statewide media oxygen (and some observers would end that phrase after the verb). Three public polls since the start of July have put incumbent Republican and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell ahead of Democratic challengers by from 2-5 percentage points.
The most recent, conducted by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling from August 7-10, gave McConnell a 5 percent lead. Democrats and sympathetic media are surely saving their most savage anti-McConnell attacks for closer to Election Day, but it is hard to see how Grimes closes ground as the leader of her party, President Obama, sinks to record low approval ratings.
In the First Congressional District, which stretches from far Western Kentucky through South Central Kentucky, incumbent Republican Ed Whitfield faces Democrat Charles Kendall Hatchett, a real estate auctioneer and broker from the Brewers, Marshall County.
Hatchett apparently hopes to oust the popular Whitfield on a platform of moving American Mustang wild horses to Western Kentucky. The issues portion of his website Hatchett lists first "Praying in Jesus' Name to the God of Creation." Congress indeed needs prayers!
Whitfield, who has Hopkinsville ties, gave a surprisingly good (but a little too long) speech at the Fancy Farm picnic. More importantly, he is defending federal ethics complaints arising from his wife's lobbying efforts for the national Humane Society and a recent Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story that raised questions about the financial relationship between Whitfield and his wife and a lobbyist.
He lacks charisma, but as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Whitfield wields considerable clout on coal and energy issues critical to Kentucky. Democrats long dominated this seat, but now they need either a Whitfield scandal or retirement and a much stronger candidate to have any hope of ever reclaiming it.
The Second Congressional District, which extends from West Central Kentucky into the Bluegrass, boasts a budding Republican star in incumbent Brett Guthrie. He faces a fellow U. S. Army veteran in Democratic challenger Ron Leach of Brandenburg.
Leach boasts an impressive educational and military background, but his progressive, protectionist, and pro-union positions are probably too far left for this former Democratic stronghold that is now a solidly conservative section of the state. Guthrie is going places, including back to Washington come the next Congress.
In the Third Congressional District, which is comprised of Louisville, the state's last real liberal bastion, incumbent Democrat John Yarmuth remains relatively popular and safe. His Republican foe, Dr. Michael Macfarlane, is the latest well-meaning but politically naive challenger who evidently sees himself as a Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington sort, needing only good intentions and sincerity to displace the entrenched Democrat.
If Macfarlane had been ready to pounce he might have wounded Yarmuth after he admitted knowing at the time that President Obama was wrong in his repeated Obamacare declarations that, "If you like your health plan, you can keep it." Yarmuth's website even repeated that falsehood.
More recently, on the same day that Yarmuth staged a made-for-media event in support of raising the minimum wage, his son Aaron, newly installed as owner of the alternative weekly paper LEO, was laying off popular staffers he claimed he could not afford to keep. It was an embarrassing, but typical example of elite liberal self-contradiction and hypocrisy, but the virtually invisible Macfarlane has made nothing of it.
The GOP's best hope of regaining this seat that it last held under Anne Northup from 1997-2007, is that Yarmuth tires of being in a minority, but not in its leadership, and quits. Even then it will take a smart, tough Republican, like state senator Julie Raque Adams perhaps, to take it back.
Next week's column will consider the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth District House races, as well as Kentucky's other Senate seat.