DYCHE | Congress Unpopular, but Kentucky Reps Safe
By John David Dyche WDRB Contributor
According to Gallup, "Americans' dismal evaluations of Congress continue, with 13% approving and 83% disapproving of the job it is doing. That approval rating is just four percentage points above the all-time low of 9% measured last November."
As noted in this space last week, however, all seven of Kentucky's congressional incumbents up for reelection this year look safe despite the unpopularity of Congress as a whole. That column looked at the Kentucky campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives for the First, Second, and Third Congressional Districts. This one looks at the rest of the races.
In the Fourth District, which extends along the Ohio River from Oldham County to Boyd County and includes the Kentucky side of Cincinnati, first-term incumbent Republican Thomas Massie of Garrison faces Democratic challenger Peter Newberry of Berry. After beating six primary opponents to win the nomination in 2012, Massie did not even have a primary this time and seems a shoo-in for another two-year term.
A Wall Street Journal profile noted that Massie not only "lives off the electrical grid in a solar-powered home on a 1,200-acre farm" in Lewis County, but "also lives off the grid politically." Massie, 43, is undoubtedly among the most fundamentalist of the constitutionalist and small government factions in the House GOP.
He voted against John Boehner as Speaker of the House. He was the only "no" vote on a measure designating Israel as a "strategic partner" of the U.S. He has voted to prohibit American combat operations in Iraq or weapons transfers to the Syrian opposition.
Newberry is running a token campaign that is, of all things, taking positions to the right of Massie's. The lawyer, farmer, and small business owner told reporter Scott Wartman of the Cincinnati/Kentucky Enquirer, "I hate government regulation." That makes Newberry a rarity among Democrats.
Incumbent Republican Hal Rogers, 76, is defending his Fifth District seat against Kenneth Stepp. Two years ago, Somerset's Rogers overwhelmed Manchester's Stepp in the Eastern Kentucky district by 140,000 votes.
Rogers has the good fortune of being House Appropriations Committee Chairman. He is somewhat less fortunate to lead that once exalted fief in a post-earmark era when exploding mandatory entitlement spending and interest payments on the debt are squeezing out discretionary spending.
But Rogers' plum post still packs plenty of power, and he, like Mitch McConnell in the Senate, skillfully uses his leadership clout to help Kentucky. Rogers' reelection is a virtual certainty, and the seat is his as long as he lives and wants it.
The Bluegrass-centered, 19-county, majority Democratic Sixth District is the only one offering the semblance of a serious contest. There, first-term incumbent Republican Andy Barr, 41, faces fellow Lexingtonian, Democrat Elisabeth Jensen.
Barr ousted four-term Democrat Ben Chandler in 2012 after narrowly losing to him two years before. Coal and Chandler's vote for “cap and trade” climate change legislation proved decisive in their second campaign and continue to characterize the current U. S. Senate contest.
Recent reporting shows Barr with almost five times as much cash on hand as Jensen, the founder and leader of an education non-profit. The New York Times quotes Jensen as saying of Obamacare, “We really have a good thing, and I think it's time Democrats start standing up for it,” a belief other candidates from Obama's party often try to conceal, deny, or finesse.
While opposing most of his positions, the Lexington Herald-Leader conceded that the conservative Barr is a “well-liked, hard-working campaigner who is responsive to constituents.” Those traits are why he, like all Kentucky's other incumbent congressmen, seems a safe bet for another stint in Washington.
The only member of Kentucky's congressional delegation not on this year's ballot is junior U. S. Senator Rand Paul. While the others campaign for reelection, he is running an all-but-declared campaign for president in 2016.
Paul's Senate seat is up for election then, too, of course. Kentucky law currently limits candidates to appearing on the ballot for only one office, but Paul would like to see that changed or struck down so he could be on the ballot for both.
It's far from certain that will happen, however, and Paul appears prepared to forsake being on Kentucky's presidential primary ballot if necessary to be on its senatorial ballot. This situation could play out several ways, and as it does all the Republican congressmen except maybe Rogers are acutely alert to the potential opportunity of succeeding Paul.
Meanwhile, Kentuckians are either content with their congressmen or dissatisfied with the alternatives. Keep this in mind when you next hear about historically low approval ratings for Congress.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.