By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
With a major hurricane disrupting the eastern seaboard, a storm nicknamed “Frankenstorm,” perhaps it was inevitable the bloodiest campaign in Kentucky would feature a masked trick-or-treat figure in a campaign ad just before Halloween.
Republican challenger Andy Barr began running an ad in his race against Democratic incumbent 6th District Congressman Ben Chandler in which a child goes trick-or-treating in a Chandler mask. When he rings a doorbell, an older woman comes to the door, and the child claims Chandler is “trying to scare old people like my Grandma.”
It’s an effort to combat Chandler’s charges that Barr and congressional Republicans want to reform or cut back Medicare in ways Democrats claim would “end Medicare as we know it.”
Chandler’s campaign criticized the ad and responded with an announcement the Democrat would air only positive ads over the final days of the campaign which comes to a close Tuesday.
Both candidates said during a televised debate Monday night on Kentucky Education Television they are tired of the negative ads and realize voters are as well — though that didn’t stop either from criticizing the other and at times stretching the truth about the other.
But the most hotly contested race in Kentucky is likely helping to spur turnout, according to Secretary of State Alison Grimes.
“We believe we’ll see a record number of voters,” Grimes told reporters Tuesday morning, predicting a turnout next Tuesday in Kentucky between 62 and 64 percent — depending on how much Hurricane Sandy affects Kentucky.
“So far, we’ve seen no disruption of voting by Hurricane Sandy,” she said.
Grimes said Kentucky now has a record number of registered voters, slightly more than 3 million. Republicans continue to gain numbers in total registration, she said, although Democrats still outnumber members of the GOP, 1.6 million ot 1.1 million.
Part of Grimes’ reasoning is the number of absentee ballots requested and the number of people who have already voted absentee on machines in their respective county clerk’s office. So far, 73,000 Kentucky voters have either requested paper absentee ballots or voted in person.
Grimes said that is “slightly ahead” of the corresponding numbers during the 2008 election. And those numbers are up nearly 2.5 percent in the 6th District where Barr and Chandler are fighting it out.
Grimes thinks turnout will be driven by local races more than by the presidential race, which in Kentucky is viewed as an easy and certain win for Republican nominee Mitt Romney over incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama.
She pointed out that 25 counties had turnout of more than 20 percent in the May primary and all 25 featured local primary contests for such offices as circuit clerk, commonwealth’s attorney or local government seats.
State legislative seats are also on this year’s ballot — 19 Senate seats and all 100 House seats. But there are only 10 contested Senate seats — five held by Democrats, two by Republicans and three open seats.
Grimes said two of those — in the 1st District between Democrat Carroll Hubbard and Republican Stan Humphries and in the 21st between Republican Albert Robinson and Democrat Amie Hacker — have produced a high number of absentee ballot requests.
“But we have not seen anything that would indicate any inappropriate behavior,” Grimes said.
Only 47 of the 100 House seats are contested with 29 of those held by Democrats and 11 by Republicans with seven open seats. Those seven may hold the key to Republican efforts to gain majority control, although that looks like a high hurdle for the GOP.
Other than the race between Chandler and Barr, the only other congressional district considered remotely competitive is the 4th where Republican Thomas Massie is favored over Democrat Bill Adkins. Interestingly, the same two are running in a special election on the same day to finish out the term of Republican Geoff Davis who resigned this summer.
That creates an oddity — Kentucky’s congressional districts have been re-drawn according to the 2010 Census. But nearly two months will remain on Davis’s term after the election and Massie and Adkins are on the ballot in the old district as well as for a full two-year term in the newly drawn district. That means some voters will be able to vote in one election but not in both.
In addition there is a contest in the 7th Judicial District for the Supreme Court between current Justice Will T. Scott and Court of Appeals Judge Janet Stumbo; a race for Court of Appeals in the 4th District; circuit judges in the 27th, 29th and 30th circuits; a district judge in the 57th District; and multiple local offices.
Polls will open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and close at 6 p.m. Voters in line at 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote. Prospective voters can check their registration and polling places online at www.elect.ky.gov.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.