National Republicans got their wish Tuesday when 2002 nominee Geoff Davis handily won the 4th district Republican primary in Kentucky, setting up a high-profile open-seat general election race against former television anchor Nick Clooney (D).
National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti called the race the party’s “best [House] pickup opportunity in the country.”
Davis’ campaign said he emerged from this primary in much stronger shape than he had two years before, and immediately announced several fundraisers with members of the Kentucky delegation.
Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) will join Davis at a fundraiser in Oldham County on June 7, and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) will host one in Ashland later that month.
“We are gearing up to spend the summer raising money,” said Davis campaign manager Justin Brasell.
In reports covering contributions and expenditures through April 28, Davis had $565,000 in the bank to Clooney’s $445,000.
Democrats remained confident, noting that the two most recent polls — one conducted for Davis and the other for Clooney — showed their candidate with a double-digit margin.
“Davis didn’t do anything in the primary campaign that would substantively change where he is,” said Clooney consultant Bob Doyle.
Oregon: Did the Best Man Win?
Oregon also played host to two competitive Republican primaries Tuesday in House districts where GOPers are hoping they can knock off entrenched incumbents. But Democrats and some Republicans — privately — say the GOP lost its best hope in a bruising primary.
The 5th district results could be considered an upset, as attorney and businessman Jim Zupancic defeated state Sen. Jackie Winters in a costly Republican race, 56 percent to 44 percent. Zupancic will now face Rep. Darlene Hooley (D), a frequent GOP target in a swing district.
Zupancic, who lost a state House race in 2002, successfully branded Winters as a tax-and-spend Republican to win over conservative primary voters. He hammered her on radio and television for supporting the state’s $1.2 billion tax package known as Measure 30, which voters soundly rejected this spring.
“He won fairly solidly,” said Bo Harmon, spokesman for the NRCC. “Clearly he has established a good team to win a tough, competitive primary; he’s been battle tested a little bit now which makes him a tougher, better candidate.”
Some Republican insiders acknowledged that it would have been a coup for the GOP to have a black, female, small business owner and lawmaker to put up against Hooley. Instead, they have Zupancic, a wealthy, white, male lawyer.
National Republicans say he’s a strong candidate who can give Hooley a run for her money.
“It presents a pretty clear contrast between the two candidates” because Zupancic is a staunch conservative and Hooley is a liberal Democrat, Harmon said. “A lot of races present shades of gray; it’s always helpful when voters have a clear choice.”
“Zupancic is a right-wing ideologue who is out of step with the district, and all he has shown is that he can eke out a win in the Republican primary and lose a state legislative race,” countered Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Greg Speed.
While the GOP has about 10,000 more registered voters, Hooley enters the general election phase with more than $1 million in the bank. Zupancic, who put $175,000 of his own money into the primary, likely has none. But Republicans are targeting the seat and Harmon said GOP donors stand at the ready to help refuel Zupancic’s campaign tank.
“There’s going to be a lot of resources available to him … from Republican donors across the country who sit out the primary and wait for the real work of beating Democrats” to begin, he said.
In the 1st district, Republicans are giddy about the prospects of Iranian immigrant Goli Ameri, who decisively beat Tim Phillips and Jason Meshell. Ameri garnered almost 50 percent of the vote, while Phillips — the stock brokerage owner who was perceived as her toughest rival — came in third with 24 percent. Meshell took almost 27 percent.
“Clearly she had an overwhelming primary victory which is indicative of a great ability to generate votes, solidify the party behind her for the race, and I think that she should have a great deal of appeal to independents and Democrats as well,” Harmon said.
Speed refuted that, saying that in a majority-Democratic district in a swing state like Oregon, Ameri has curbed her general election appeal by hewing too closely to President Bush and the GOP leadership.
Furthermore, Rep. David Wu (D) has made the 1st district less competitive for Republicans over the years, he said. Wu won re-election in 2002 with 63 percent of the vote.
In the Senate primary, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) — the heavy favorite in November — was unopposed while rancher Al King broke out from a field of six unknown candidates to secure the GOP nod. King, a former state Republican vice chairman, won 36 percent of the vote compared with over 22 percent for his closest competitor, Bruce Broussard.
Kentucky: Both Parties Hopeful
The marquee race of the day was in Kentucky’s 4th where Davis, a businessman, beat back a series of withering attacks from Murphy to win the nomination with 58 percent.
Murphy, who took 32 percent, blasted Davis for his alleged failure to pay taxes for two years on a business he owned and for an ongoing complaint with the Federal Election Commission over the potentially illegal funneling of campaign contributions to his campaign by an individual.
Murphy “hit us pretty hard on a lot of things and made us get better a lot sooner than we would have otherwise,” Brasell said.
Democrats immediately unearthed past statements by Republican leaders — including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — that indicated Davis was not their first choice.
“Republicans have a candidate that even Republicans don’t like,” said DCCC spokeswoman Kori Bernards. The seat is open as a result of Rep. Ken Lucas’ (D) retirement.
Both sides agreed that the general election would be among the most high-profile races nationwide due in large part to Clooney’s famous last name. He is the father of actor George Clooney and the brother of the late singer Rosemary Clooney.
“The more attention this race gets, the better off we think we are,” said Brasell.
Though the 4th district race dominated Kentucky politics Tuesday, Democrats got a bit of good news when state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo (D) easily defeated perennial candidate David Williams for the Senate nomination. He will face freshman Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in the fall.
Mongiardo won 65 percent to 35 percent. Some Democrats had feared Williams could run strongly due to the fact that he shares a name with the state’s Senate President.
To avoid a potential upset, Mongiardo ran two weeks of statewide television touting his background as a surgeon. Democrats are hoping that Mongiardo’s victory turns around what has been a disappointing campaign to this point.
After losing his second manager in a public split last month, Mongiardo has hired Kim Geveden to oversee his general election effort. He will also bring a communications director on board shortly, according to Democratic sources.
Mongiardo used his first day as the party’s nominee to campaign in Covington County — Bunning’s longtime political base.
Eric Niloff, a spokesman for Mongiardo, said the candidate asked local business owners: “Where has Jim Bunning been over the last six years?”
The largest problem facing Mongiardo is fundraising, where Bunning has a massive edge. Through April 28, Bunning had $3.8 million in the bank; Mongiardo retained $243,000. In hopes of remedying that problem, Mongiardo will travel to Chicago to raise money with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) in June. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) was in Kentucky to raise money for Mongiardo in March.
Although no other events with Senators are on the books, knowledgeable sources indicated that Mongiardo made a very favorable impression when he spoke to the full Democratic Caucus on April 27 and will likely get significant support.
“We are very confident we will have enough money to compete in this race,” said Niloff.
Bunning, at a victory rally Tuesday night, said he was “looking forward” to the general election.
“We’re running an effective and strategic campaign,” he said.
Arkansas: Land of Lincoln
While Democrats are hoping that Mongiardo’s primary win will boost their chances in Kentucky, national Republicans had written off the Arkansas Senate race long before Tuesday’s primary.
State Sen. Jim Holt won the GOP nomination easily with 70 percent, beating out former Benton County Sheriff Andy Lee and Rosemarie Clampitt. Holt now faces the unenviable task of challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in November.
Once considered a top Republican target, Lincoln has grown stronger and stronger throughout the cycle as no top-tier GOPers moved to challenge her. She had $5 million in the bank at the end of April; Holt had $18,000 on hand at that time.