Despite rumors that he might be retiring and the sudden interest of two top-tier Democratic challengers, Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.) filed papers on Tuesday to run for a ninth term.
The retirement rumors began on Friday when a local blogger discovered that Lewis, 61, and his wife had put their home in Cecilia up for sale. They were fanned by Democratic operatives with the story line that Lewis might be opting out after his toughest re-election contest last year and the prospect of another in 2008.
“Nothing to this,” Mike Dodge, the Congressman’s spokesman, said in an e-mail this week. “He and his wife are looking for [a house that is] smaller — as many folks do once their children leave home — likely in the Cecilia/Elizabethtown, KY area where they currently reside.”
Lewis and his wife, Kayi, have two children, Ronald, 36, and Allison, 25.
Dodge said the Congressman is preparing for another campaign and “is particularly engaged in [the] ’08 cycle considering [his] rising seniority on the [House Ways and Means Committee]. If re-elected, he is next in line for a [subcommittee] ranking or chair position.”
But to do that, it appears Lewis will have to get through either state Sen. David Boswell (D) or Daviess County Judge/Executive Reid Haire, both of whom were quick to tell Kentucky newspapers about their interest in the 2nd district seat after Democrats made major gains in state elections last week.
Both men repeated their interest again on Tuesday and both acknowledged that with the help of Gov.-elect Steve Beshear (D) they hope to come to some sort of understanding to allow one or the other to run for the seat unopposed and avoid a costly primary.
“We’re probably going to go to Frankfort to sit down with Gov.-elect Steve Beshear’s people as well as officials in the state Democratic Party and begin ironing out and looking at the positives and negatives and challenges that each of us would face in the coming months with regards to raising money and waging a successful campaign,” Haire said. “Hopefully … one of us will decide that it probably is not in his best interest to run for that office and throw his support to the other.”
Haire has served as the chief executive of Daviess County, which includes the Congressional district’s biggest city, Owensboro, since 1999.
Boswell, an 18-year veteran of the state Senate who has also served as state agricultural commissioner, said he would wait at least a couple of weeks before deciding what to do.
“I’m involved in some polling right now that won’t be available until right after Thanksgiving so it will be at least after Thanksgiving before I make an announcement of any kind, but it is a race that I have been interested in for many years,” Boswell said. “It would be very expensive to have a primary and hopefully [Haire] and I can sit down and work through this thing. … We’ll see how those numbers come back and I’ll adhere to the polling data.”
Beshear won a landslide victory over embattled Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) in last week’s election, earning almost 59 percent of the vote statewide and carrying the 2nd district with 56 percent.
Jonathan Miller, the outgoing state treasurer and chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, described both Boswell and Haire as “top-tier candidates and frankly … two of the best candidates that we could have ever had against Ron Lewis.”
The two men are conservatives, which Democrats need to be to compete in a district that President Bush carried by more than 30 points in the 2004 White House election. Both oppose abortion rights and favor gun rights.
In 2006, Lewis won with 55 percent of the vote after spending almost $2 million on his race, more than double the amount spent by his opponent, state Rep. Mike Weaver, who was Lewis’ first serious Democratic challenger in a decade. It was Lewis’ lowest winning percentage since the May 1994 special election that brought him to Congress.
“We had a pretty good candidate against him last time in Mike Weaver and Mike fit the profile very well but just did not do a good job of raising enough money to be competitive,” Miller said. “And I think both Boswell and Haire are very clear and they understand that they are going to need to raise a significant amount of cash before even the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] decides it’s going to play in that district.”
DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said Tuesday that the committee does not favor one Democrat over the other in the 2nd district right now.
But Jennings added that “last week’s elections showed that Kentucky voters trust Democrats to bring change to their state. Ron Lewis has failed the people of his district on issues like children’s health care and student aid, and he will be held accountable next year.”
Miller added that “2006 was a bad year for Republicans nationally but 2007 is a terrible year for Republicans in Kentucky. … If the trend continues we’re going to give [Lewis] the race of his life.”
But National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain argued that the Democratic success in Kentucky last week was limited.
“If Democrats want to blow their money trying to defeat an eight-term incumbent in the heartland of Kentucky, then we invite them to go ahead and do so,” Spain said. “Democrats seem to be forgetting that Republicans posted impressive statewide victories down- ballot, and for them to claim anything more would be foolish.
“If Democrats couldn’t take down Ron Lewis in the most Democrat-friendly environment since Watergate, then what makes them think they can beat him now?”