By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
There’s no chance Republicans will lose control of the Kentucky state Senate on Nov. 6. But both parties are watching three races closely which could at least slightly shift the partisan balance.
Republicans control the Senate with 22 seats to Democrats’ 15 with one independent who caucuses with Republicans. (Republican Senate President David Williams also plans to resign his seat on Nov. 2 to accept a position as a circuit judge. His successor will be determined by special election sometime after Nov. 6.) Two of the three seats the parties are watching are currently held by retiring Republicans while the other is held by a Democrat seeking re-election.
In the 21st district of Laurel, Estill, Jackson, Menifee and Powell counties, a first-time Democratic candidate, Amie Hacker, is taking on veteran Republican candidate and controversial legislator Albert Robinson in an overwhelmingly Republican district.
In the far west, one time Democratic U.S. Congressman Carroll Hubbard, who was disgraced by a federal House banking scandal and conviction, is running against Trigg County Republican Judge/Executive Stan Humphries.
While those two contests are for vacated Republican seats, the GOP has set its sights on taking the 37th in Jefferson County from Democrat Perry Clark who is opposed by Chris Thieneman, a former University of Louisville football star.
Perhaps the unlikeliest contest is the 21st, deep in the Republican heartland. The seat was once held by Robinson who was defeated by fellow Republican Tom Jensen in the 2004 Republican primary. Robinson’s earlier tenure was controversial for a provision he inserted to sweeten legislative pensions, an amendment which passed but was later over turned by the courts.
During the 2004 race, Jensen said Robinson was “the most self-serving politician” he’d ever seen and even some of Jensen’s would-be colleagues in the state Senate indicated they’d be happy to see someone other than Robinson nominated when Jensen announced he was leaving.
State Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said winning such a Republican district would normally be out of reach for Democrats but “people don’t want to vote for Albert Robinson.”
Palmer said Hacker is a strong candidate with backing from many Republicans but he worries others may simply vote a straight Republican ticket in a presidential election year, especially when Democratic President Barack Obama is so unpopular in Kentucky.
Steve Robertson, Chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, is confident Robinson will win – and for the same reason Palmer is concerned.
“At the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney will run in the stratosphere,” Robertson said. But Robertson conceded, “It’s a very spirited race.”
That wouldn’t normally be the case in such a Republican stronghold – but Robinson is controversial. Hacker said she doesn’t bring up Robinson’s past controversies involving state aid for local projects which might have benefited him or his pension amendment during her personal appearances “because I’ve been asking people what I can do when I get up there to serve the district.”
But her advertising isn’t so coy. Her campaign has pointed out things said by Robinson’s fellow Republicans in the past and even statements made by Jensen during the 2004 contest with Robinson.
“His own party does not speak highly of him,” said Hacker. “We’ve just made the public aware of the past, what people have said and his past record.”
Robinson concedes some prominent Republicans are opposing his re-election but he said the attacks on his record “are old, old news. This has been the dirtiest, nastiest campaign that’s ever been run against me, but I think it’s backfiring by stirring my people up.”
He said he’s running on a “God, country and family” platform and he is “100 percent pro-life and 100 percent pro-gun.” And he’s reminding voters he is a Republican and Hacker “is running on the Obama-Democrat ticket.”
Palmer said Hacker and Democrats need “to turn the volume up” on Robinson’s past. The Kentucky Family Values PAC has run ads criticizing Robinson as well.
In the 1st District in far western Kentucky, Hubbard is making one more attempt at a political comeback and perhaps redemption by running for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Ken Winters.
Democrats say Hubbard is working hard and that his Republican opponent, Humphries is “from the wrong end of the district.” Trigg County is the eastern most county in the district which stretches nearly to the Mississippi River.
Robertson laughs, however.
“Carroll Hubbard has really high name recognition,” the RPK chairman said. “Unfortunately for him, it’s all bad name recognition. People understand he committed a felony and they do not believe that’s the type of person they should send to Frankfort.”
But Palmer notes that Hubbard, who was pardoned after serving time in prison, lost by fewer than 100 votes two years ago to Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, before moving to Mayfield in the 1st District. “Ask Bob Leeper if Hubbard is a laughable candidate,” Palmer said.
He said Hubbard has raised close to $150,000 but he expects to see a barrage of advertising from the other side focusing on Hubbard’s past legal problems.
“But he is still very much in this race,” Palmer said.
The last of the three races is for the 37th District in southwestern Jefferson County represented by incumbent Democrat Clark.
Earlier this year during a press conference to promote legislation to legalize the medical use of marijuana, Clark responded to a reporter’s question by saying people in his district know “I’ve smoked a little weed.”
Thieneman has run unsuccessfully for other offices in Jefferson County and has been accused of not actually living in the 37th District. Last week, Robert Walker filed suit in Jefferson Circuit Court challenging Thieneman’s residency qualifications.
Palmer said Thieneman has listed multiple residences on campaign forms while running in previous elections and on forms listing contributions to other candidates. He currently lists an address for an apartment over a storage warehouse he owns.
Robertson and Thieneman’s lawyer, Jason Nemes, noted that a similar suit filed by a Republican earlier this year was thrown out by a judge.
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.