DYCHE | Democrats and Kentucky's 2016 U.S. Senate Race
News: John David Dyche Opinion Graphic
By John David Dyche WDRB Contributor
Most talk about next year's Kentucky U.S. Senate race concerns Rand Paul's desire to seek reelection while simultaneously running for the Republican presidential nomination. To do this, Paul must deal with Kentucky's law purporting to prevent anyone from appearing "on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once."
General Assembly Democrats will not change that law, and Paul is apparently reluctant to challenge its constitutionality in court, so his current strategy is to replace Kentucky's Republican presidential primary with a caucus. The GOP is thinking through this proposal, which is admittedly at odds with the conservative maxim, "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change."
Democrats have lost every U.S. Senate race in Kentucky since 1992, including most recently Mitch McConnell's merciless drubbing of Alison Lundergan Grimes last year, but they will presumably field a candidate in 2016. Paul's peculiar political position could make the race marginally more attractive to Democrats who believe they have what it takes to break their party's embarrassingly long losing streak.
Two Democrats tower over other potential candidates, but there are a few others who merit consideration. The frontrunners are Adam Edelen of Lexington, who is running for reelection as state auditor this year, and Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, who easily won reelection last year.
Both have some of what Democratic U.S. candidates in Kentucky have fatally lacked over the past three decades: crossover appeal to conservatives. But they, like their defeated predecessors, will still be saddled with their connection to a national party that is radically more liberal than the average Kentuckian.
This has been the case since at least 1984. When incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Walter "Dee" Huddleston lost to a little known Republican challenger named Mitch McConnell that year, he lamented, "It's time for our party, the Democratic Party, to redefine itself at the national level so that these good Democrats in Kentucky can identify with the party."
Kentucky's Republican registration has been steadily gaining on Democrats since then. There are now 1,681,667 registered Democrats to 1,227,967 registered Republicans, or a historically low ratio of below 1.4 to 1. And many of these registered Democrats are obviously voting Republican in federal elections.
Edelen and Fischer look better suited than most of their party comrades to overcome these dual difficulties. They have business backgrounds, are not overtly hostile toward capitalism like many of their more liberal colleagues, and have performed well in their current offices.
Undoubtedly the most polished public presenter in the state Democratic Party, Edelen has used his office to reform Kentucky's "shadow government" of special districts. He has also hit hard on education issues, especially where administrative graft or mismanagement were depriving classrooms and students of dollars they deserved.
Many hoped and more thought that Edelen would seek the governorship this year. He demurred citing family concerns, but the prospect of fighting for campaign funds against state attorney general Jack Conway, now the anointed Democratic nominee, probably helped dissuade him.
Fischer seems obsessed with bicycle lanes, initially mishandled an outbreak of mob violence, and has been too tolerant of some rogue employees, but has also earned well-deserved praise for cleaning up some of the messes left by his predecessor and current Obama administration minion, Jerry Abramson.
It was a feather in Fischer's cap (which is probably a very hip beret) when the Kentucky state House of Representatives, the last bastion of Democratic power in the state, passed his local option sales tax measure recently. Several Republicans also support it, but it will more likely be a liability than an asset in a statewide race characterized by brutal 30-second television spots.
If he loses for governor, Conway, Kentucky's chronic yet joyless campaigner, cannot be counted out of the Senate race. And if Conway wins, his running mate, state representative Sannie Overly, could seek the Senate like another bored Democratic lieutenant governor, Dan Mongiardo, did in 2004, albeit unsuccessfully.
Grimes is going to have to do something. She cannot be content with another term as secretary of state stamping corporate filings after having been the darling of liberal elites in Hollywood and Manhattan before McConnell brought her back to harsh reality last year. If she seeks a federal office, however, the House of Representatives is more likely after her recent statewide trouncing.
Lexington mayor Jim Gray would be good at whatever he pursues, but his political future is more likely in state politics than federal. There are always potential celebrity candidates, of which former Miss America Heather French Henry would be most formidable, but actress Ashley Judd would be most amusing.
Finally, there are wealthy Democratic businesspeople. The last one to try a Senate bid was Bruce Lunsford, whom McConnell beat in 2008, but there are others who possess the requisite excess of assets and ego. 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.