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Following in Fletcher’s Footsteps

Several Pols Already Running in Kentucky’s Special House Election

Less than 24 hours after Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) was elected governor of Kentucky on Tuesday, several candidates were already angling to replace him in the 6th district.

Republican state Reps. Alice Forgy Kerr, Stan Lee and Lonnie Napier joined the race Wednesday, as Fletcher campaign manager Daniel Groves pondered a candidacy.

For their part, state Democrats are working to convince state Attorney General Ben Chandler to pivot off his losing gubernatorial bid and run for the House seat.

Fletcher’s 55 percent to 45 percent triumph over Chandler means the central Kentucky seat he has held since 1998 will host a special election by late January or early February 2004.

Fletcher will be sworn in Dec. 8 and is expected to declare his Congressional seat vacant the next day. Under state law, he can call a special election no sooner than 35 days from the date the vacancy becomes official.

Due to a quirk in Kentucky law, there will be no primaries, so each party’s executive committee will choose its general election nominee.

Each of the 16 counties in the district will have a weighted vote based on the percentage of registered party voters in its area. The candidate who receives a simple plurality of executive committee votes will be the nominee.

“This will be a classic person-to-person campaign,” said Marshall Manson, campaign manager for Kerr. “Alice and her key supporters are going to talk to the county chairmen and vice chairmen enough that they are not going to want to talk to her again.”

Lee said he has already spoken to the roughly 30 people who will eventually decide the nominee and planned to do so several times more in the near future.

Both Kerr and Lee represent Fayette County districts — the population center of the 6th that includes Lexington. Both of their state House districts are entirely contained within the boundaries of the 6th.

Napier has been in the state House since 1984 and represents the more rural counties in the southern portion of the district. He believes that his wider base in the less-populated portions of the district will pay dividends.

“I have carried county after county when some of these people have carried just a little bit of a town,” he said.

Kerr was first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. Her brother, Larry Forgy, ran a near-miss gubernatorial campaign in 1995 against outgoing Gov. Paul Patton (D).

Lee has held his south Lexington seat since 2000 and was unopposed for his first re-election race in 2002. Lee argues that his background as a rural tobacco farmer will play well with voters in this district. Former Rep. Scotty Baesler (D), who held the seat from 1992 to 1998, was also a tobacco farmer.

Lee is considered the most conservative of the three and has gained significant publicity — not all of it good — for his quest to pass anti-abortion rights legislation that would allow charges to be brought against people who commit crimes against unborn children.

The Republican field is likely to remain fluid, however, until Groves makes a decision. If Groves, who has long been Fletcher’s top aide, decides to run with the blessing of the newly elected governor, he could be difficult to beat, several Republicans acknowledge.

On the Democratic side, state party Chairwoman Susan Westrom said Wednesday that Chandler would be the “finest candidate we can get.”

Prior to his run for governor, Chandler served as the state’s top cop from 1995 to 2003. Westrom said Chandler’s loss would not hurt him in a House race because of the difficult atmospherics he faced after Patton admitted an affair with a state employee.

“The pope couldn’t have won this race,” she said of the contest with Fletcher.

Westrom, a state Representative since 1998, refused to rule out a run of her own in the event Chandler declines.

“I have dedicated the last four months of my life to focus completely on the [governor’s] race,” she said. “I have not even considered looking at a Congressional seat.”

Westrom would likely have support from EMILY’s List and is also seen as a strong candidate by national Democrats.

Other Democrats mentioned include state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, who was the Democratic nominee in 1998 but lost the general to Fletcher, and state Sen. R.J. Palmer.

Scorsone, who is Kentucky’s only openly gay legislator, said he had “put in a couple of calls” on the race but had not made a decision. Palmer said he is interested in the race but was taking a few days to “mull yesterday’s results.”

State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who just won a resounding victory for a second term Tuesday, is not a serious possibility, according to Democratic insiders. Miller ran for the Congressional seat in 1998 but lost badly in the primary to Scorsone.

Regardless of the eventual nominees, the special election is likely to serve as an early test of both national party committees’ ability to affect races in the wake of the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which banned them from raising and spending so-called soft money. The district is competitive between the parties, although Democrats acknowledge they must nominate a moderate to conservative candidate to win there.

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