BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
When it comes to Kentucky politics, there's never been a year quite like 1998.
For the first time, candidates for federal, state and local office share the May primary and November general election ballots. A state constitutional amendment Kentucky voters approved a few years ago put the offices on the same ballot to cut down on the number of elections.
State and local officials are wondering how the change will affect voter turnout for the May 26 primary.
"That's the big question," Secretary of State John Y. Brown Jr. said. "Typically, in an off (presidential) election year, or a year without a gubernatorial race, we see turnout of about 15 percent to 20 percent," Mr. Brown said. "And historically, the county elections can have a turnout of around 40 percent. So I'm hoping for a 30 percent turnout."
Mr. Brown pointed out there is a record number of candidates -- nearly 5,700 -- on the ballot across the state. But the lack of any "hot button" issues, as well as a good economy and the general contentment of the electorate, could suppress turnout.
"There's not a lot out there that is going to drive people to the polls on Election Day," Mr. Brown said.
County clerks in Northern Kentucky also aren't sure what to expect.
"Normally, we have a pretty good idea what our turnout is going to be," said Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor, who is predicting a turnout of less than 20 percent of the county's 88,153 registered voters. "But this year, we really don't have a clue."
Here are some of the top races to watch:
The Democratic U.S. Senate primary among U.S. Rep. Scotty Baesler of Lexington, Louisville businessman Charlie Owen and Lt. Gov. Steve Henry. U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning of Southgate is running in the Republican Senate primary, but he is expected to defeat State Sen. Barry Metcalf of Richmond.
The Senate primaries are the only statewide races on the ballot. The 4th Congressional District Republican primary among Fort Thomas attorney Jim Kidney, Fort Mitchell attorney Rick Robinson and State Sen. Gex "Jay" Williams, and the Democratic primary involving Boone County Judge-executive Ken Lucas and Russell osteopath Dr. Howard Feinberg.
The Kenton County commission Republican primary between incumbent Nyoka Johnston of Edgewood and Taylor Mill City Commissioner Barb Black.
The Campbell County judge-executive primaries between Republicans Steve Pendery and Tim Nolan and the Democratic contest between incumbent Judge-executive Ken Paul and Steve Roth.
The Boone County judge-executive Democratic primary involving County Administrator Jim Collins, attorney Mike McKinney and former County Commissioner Don Davis.
Contested fiscal court primaries in Boone and Campbell counties. Boone County Clerk Jerry Rouse said he is getting a hint that voter turnout will be low because his office is not getting many requests for absentee ballots.
"We might get 30 percent" turnout, he said. "We have the federal races, but sometimes the local races bring more people out."
Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass is expecting turnout of only 19 percent to 23 percent in next week's primary. But that figure will be higher in November for the general election.
"I'm thankful we bought new (computerized) voting machines two years ago," Mr. Snodgrass said. "We're hearing that the old machines with the hand-operated levers like we used to have aren't big enough to handle the ballot."