In Kentucky, Beshear Bets on Special Election Victory

Since winning the governorship in 2007, Kentucky's Steve Beshear has promoted expanded gambling as a fiscal and economic balm for his state. But, he's ...
by | August 24, 2009

Since winning the governorship in 2007, Kentucky's Steve Beshear has promoted expanded gambling as a fiscal and economic balm for his state. But, he's been stopped in his tracks by the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate.

If Republicans won't join Beshear in supporting gambling legislation, then his strategy is to beat them at the ballot box. In that regard, tomorrow is a key date, with a special election for a Senate seat previously held by a Republican. The Lexington Herald-Leader has more details on the race:

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and his party's leaders are hopeful the election in Robertson, Bracken, Mason, Lewis, Carter and Greenup counties will chip away at Republican control of the Senate, where the GOP now holds a 20-16 majority under the leadership of President David Williams.

There are a couple of reasons for Democratic optimism here. The Democratic nominee, Robin Webb, already represents part of the district in the Kentucky House of Representatives. The Republican, Jack Ditty, doesn't hold elected office. Webb also has raised more money than Ditty -- with much of it, Ditty notes, from gambling interests.

As political turf, the 18th district in Northeastern Kentucky is one of the most level in the state. Beshear routed Republican Ernie Fletcher in 2007 in the six-county district, but John McCain carried the district comfortably the next year. As he won a narrow victory statewide, last year Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell won narrowly in the 18th as well.

Below is a chart of the county-by-county results in those three races. Interestingly, the two counties Webb currently represents are the most Democratic county (Carter) and the most Republican one (Lewis). Click on the chart to make it appear more clearly.

Kentucky 18th District

Republicans have been on a fairly good run in legislative special elections this year, though Democrats did gain one Republican-held Kentucky Senate seat in February. I'd caution against judging the national political environment based on one election in one district in Northeastern Kentucky.

On the other hand, the results tomorrow might be something of a referendum on Beshear and his views on gambling. Or, they might merely tell us which party's supporters were more likely to be vacationing in late August.

What's clear, though, is that the race will have policy implications. It will also help tell us whether Beshear and the Democrats have a realistic shot of winning control of the Kentucky Senate when 19 of its 38 seats go before voters next year.

--Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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