GOP Says Kentucky Loss No Harbinger

Democratic leaders were gloating last week after Democrat A.B. (Ben) Chandler III defeated Republican State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, 55% to 43%, in the special election to fill the 6th U.S. House District seat vacated by former Rep. Ernie Fletcher, who was elected governor in November. Republicans, however, disputed the claim that the Democratic victory was a harbinger.

This is the first time the Democrats have won a special election for a Republican-held House seat since 1991, and Democrats immediately claimed the victory foreshadowed things to come.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said Chandler’s win “gives lie to the Republicans’ favorite new talking point that Democrats can’t win in the South.” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) proclaimed it “should send a clear message to the arrogant Republican government in Washington that Americans are ready for a change.”

Asked by HUMAN EVENTS if there were any national implications in the Kentucky outcome, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, “I don’t look at it that way at all. Obviously, individual races are decided by candidates themselves.”

President Bush did not campaign with Kerr, although he “expressed his support,” said McClellan. Bush also was featured in a Kerr campaign ad walking alongside the candidate. (National GOP officials noted that the President has never campaigned in a special House election.)

Chandler out-spent her $2.4 million to $2 million, said State Republican Chairman Ellen Williams. She also pointed out that Chandler had won three statewide races, had almost universal name recognition in the state, and is the namesake-grandson of a former governor, senator, and commissioner of baseball.

Chandler carried fourteen of the sixteen counties in a district Bush won with 55% four years ago and that the Republican Fletcher had represented since 1998.

Some local Republicans were critical of the way national Republicans intervened in the race. To be sure, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) strongly endorsed Kerr early in the nominating process and lent several aides to her campaign. Kerr then secured the nomination over three opponents at a district convention of party leaders rather than in a primary.

Republican State Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Kerr was perceived as a “lightweight” and “a poor public speaker.” “I wish the national Republicans would get out of local politics and let us select our own nominees,” said Lee.