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Ellis: State Senate race about more than national politics

December 11, 2009

Reporter Ronnie Ellis with CNHI News Service takes a look at the other factors at work this week in the special election to fill Kentucky’s 14th District seat in the state Senate.

Republican Jimmy Higdon, who had been serving in the state House, beat Democrat Jodie Haydon despite being outspent in a district that leans heavily toward Democrats in terms of registration. Higdon will fill the seat vacated by Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly, the Republican who was recent appointed judge by Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.

Supporters on the winning and losing sides are both crediting the nationalization of the campaign, with ads attacking Obama and Nancy Pelosi from the Republican side, in a strategy crafted in part by Sen. Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican and new majority floor leader who advised the Higdon campaign. Ellis notes that there was more at work.

From the column

But it was also about Beshear. Beshear’s poll numbers had already dipped to 39 percent before the election. As Stivers said, some in the district resented how the election came about with Beshear appointing a Republican, Sen. Dan Kelly, to the bench. As Higdon said, some in the district resented the enormous amount of money spent on behalf of his opponent, former Democratic legislator Jody Haydon. Stivers thinks the total may reach $1.9 million when outside interests’ contributions are calculated. (One has to ask how Beshear and Democrats can’t win a 24 percent turnout election with that kind of money.)

“If money can buy an election, then this one is bought and paid for by outside interests,” Higdon said before the election. “But people see through that,” he added.

Ellis also correctly notes that the loss is damaging for Beshear and for his prospects of delivering a slots bill for the horse industry.

Nationalizing the race proved to be smart strategy and it obviously played a part in Higdon’s win. But, as Stivers said, no one issue decides such races. It’s in McConnell’s and Beshear’s interests to credit the national issues exclusively for Higdon’s win. But even Beshear’s political advisors can see the governor – and prospects for slots at the tracks – are weaker in the aftermath.

We’ll be weighing in with an editorial about the race and its impact on the push for expanded gambling in Monday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

Anyone see anything different about how this election played out or the implications going forward?

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