Despite the presence of popular five-term incumbent Rep. Anne Northup on the ballot, Republicans could not hold on to Kentucky’s 3rd district seat in November.
But National Republican Congressional Committee officials don’t see the Democratic wave of 2006 sticking in the 3rd, even though the district tends to vote Democratic in presidential elections. And some Republicans argue that Erwin Roberts, the candidate who recently came forward to challenge freshman Rep. John Yarmuth (D), is more appealing to the population of the Louisville-area district than the Democrat.
“Yarmuth rode in on the coattails of the large Democratic wave of 2006,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. “We see 2008 as a more even playing field and we don’t feel Yarmuth is a good fit for the district.”
But Democrats are eager to face off against Roberts, whom they believe will be far easier to defeat than Northup.
Roberts, a 35-year-old attorney, resigned from his position as personnel cabinet secretary for embattled Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) more than a year ago. Roberts is a former assistant U.S. attorney and one-time director of the state Office of Homeland Security.
One Democratic aide familiar with the district said many political professionals see Roberts as having a “dark cloud” over his head for being so close to the hiring scandal that rocked Fletcher’s administration last year — and resulted in the governor’s indictment on three misdemeanor charges.
Although Fletcher pulled out a win in the May Republican primary despite the scandal — over Northup, who was seeking a political comeback after losing to Yarmuth last year by just 3 points — he is badly trailing former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) in polls testing their November general election matchup. And many of Fletcher’s former staffers are still feeling reverberations from the scandal.
Some familiar with the district saw Northup’s five terms in Congress as an anomaly, seeing as how Kentucky’s 3rd favored, though by close margins, former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004. The rest of the state’s Congressional districts voted for President Bush in both elections.
A spokesman for Yarmuth said partisanship isn’t always a factor in the dynamic population that makes up the Louisville area.
The district is a “very independent, open-minded community” and “less interested in partisanship and more so in finding a candidate who endorses their values,” spokesman Stuart Perelmuter said. “Yarmuth works very hard to the values of Louisville.”
Yarmuth is a former publisher of an alternative newspaper and founder of a liberal think tank. During last year’s campaign, Northup and the NRCC attacked him for some of the editorials he had written for the paper, which they charged proved he was far out of the mainstream. But those attacks did not seem to draw much blood.
Under new Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), the NRCC doesn’t endorse primary candidates. The committee has not thrown its full blessing behind Roberts because there is talk that Chris Thieneman, a former University of Louisville football player and local real estate developer, might hop in the GOP primary.
Because Roberts is black, Republicans believe he may be able to pick off some traditionally Democratic voters in a district with the biggest black population in the state. More than 19 percent of the residents in the 3rd district are black, compared with a 7 percent black population statewide.
“Being black could add to his strengths,” Spain said. “But it’s about message. If he speaks to the interest of the voters of the district, we are confident he can win.”
Perelmuter said the black voters in the district should feel confident that their concerns will be addressed if they re-elect the freshman Representative.
“The African-American community of Louisville knows Rep. Yarmuth has spent lots of time in the community in the past years,” Perelmuter said. “He’s been working very hard to deliver for their community and they will have no reason to look elsewhere.”