We offer today a few reflections on the messages voters sent in Tuesday’s primary election in Kentucky:
-- The Tea Party is alive and thriving in Kentucky, or at least in the part of the state that comprises the 4th Congressional District. Lewis County Judge-Executive Thomas Massie, a political newcomer when he was elected judge-executive in 2010, easily won the GOP nomination to succeed incumbent Republican Geoff Davis as the congressional representative in the district that stretches along the Ohio River from Ashland to Oldham County and the suburbs of Louisville. His victory defied “Conventional Wisdom” which said the 4th District representative would always be from either Boone, Campbell or Kenton counties across the river from Cincinnati.
Massie’s campaign was boosted by his support from Tea Party Republicans, led by U.S Sen. Rand Paul, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 on the same day Massie was being elected the chief executive in Lewis County. Some contend that Massie’s chances were boosted by the fact that his two top opponents — State Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington, who was backed by the Republican establishment, and Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore, split the vote in northern Kentucky. However, Massie received more votes Tuesday than Webb-Edgington and Moore combined.
Massie will face Democrat William R “Bill” Adkins, an attorney from Williamstown, in November. Adkins does give voters a viable option to Massie, but with the exception of former U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas — a conservative Democrat who often voted with Republicans — this district has been firmly in the hands of the GOP since the days of U.S Rep. Gene Snyder.
Since Rand Paul’s victory in 2010, many had claimed support for the Tea Party had waned, and perhaps it has, but Massie’s win shows that it is remains a force to be reckoned with in Kentucky.
-- It is difficult, but not impossible, to defeat an incumbent. In three races in Boyd and Greenup counties, incumbents easily won Tuesday, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Conn lost to West Liberty attorney Brandon Ison in the Democratic primary in the 37th Judicial District comprised of Carter, Elliott and Morgan counties. With no Republicans in the race, Ison is virtually assured victory in November.
In Greenup County, challenger Tyler Murphy, a former chairman of the Greenup County Democratic Party, fought an aggressive, issue-oriented race against State Rep. Tanya Pullin, but in the end, Pullin received nearly three of every four votes cast to win her seventh term in a landslide.
In Boyd County, Commonwealth’s Attorney David Justice easily defeated Roger Hall to win a second six-year term, and Boyd County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Kay Baker easily defeated Kipp Barker to virtually assure her of election to a second term in November. (Technically, candidates can still file as an Independent or as a write-in candidate in the November election, but the chances of that happening range from slim to none.)
Six years ago, Justice defeated incumbent J. Stewart Schneider to become commonwealth’s attorney, but unlike Justice did in 2006, Hall never gave voters a good reason to unseat the existing prosecutor. Murphy and Baker also failed to convince voters that a change was needed in the offices they sought. However, while Conn was the incumbent in the 37th judicial district, he was far from being entrenched. The Grayson attorney had been appointed commonwealth’s attorney in 2010, and elected without opposition to serve the remainder of the term. This was his first time he faced voters in a race in which they were given a choice — and they chose Ison.
-- In the race for U.S president, Mitt Romney, the only Republican candidate still actively running for the party’s nomination, received almost 70 percent of the vote, to easily outdistance U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the father of Senator Paul. However, while President Barack Obama was the only Democrat on a ballot for president, Kentucky Democrats sent a rather clear message on just how unpopular their party’s president is here in Kentucky by giving 42 percent of their votes for president to “uncommitted,” their only other choice Tuesday. That means many of the delegates the state sends to the Democratic Convention will not be committed to voting for Obama. We can think of no other clearer way for Kentucky Democrats to register their dissatisfaction with President Obama, who few think will get the state’s eight electoral votes in November. President Obama may be re-elected but it won’t be because of Kentucky.
-- The approximately 86 percent of the eligible Kentucky voters who did not vote Tuedday also sent a message.. In some ways, the low voter turnout is understandable. In many counties there were no contested local races on the ballot, and why vote for president when the outcome is already known?
Nevertheless, it is a sad day for democracy in American when voter indifference carries the day. A rather clear message was sent by a majority of Kentuckians Tuesday: “We don’t care!”