Sunday, February 15, 2004

Democrats hope slide stops in Tuesday vote

By Charles Wolfe
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Fresh from losing the governorship and nearly shut out on Capitol Hill, Kentucky Democrats think they can reverse recent misfortune Tuesday in a special congressional election.

Their candidate, former attorney general Ben Chandler, was beaten decidedly by new Gov. Ernie Fletcher in November. But now, in a tantalizing turnabout, Chandler leads in a short, intense race for the 6th District seat Fletcher had to give up.

Chandler, in the first federal election of 2004, is being opposed by Republican Alice Forgy Kerr, a state senator from Lexington. A Libertarian candidate, Mark Gailey of Berea, also is on the ballot.

Kerr, who had never before run outside Lexington, banked on President Bush's popularity and made support of Bush a basis of her campaign.

She had raised twice as much money as Chandler but trailed him in a poll published Thursday. The same poll showed Bush to have a high approval rating among likely voters.

In The Courier-Journal's Bluegrass Poll of 466 self-described likely voters, 49.4 percent said they supported Chandler and 39.6 percent said they supported Kerr. Eleven percent were undecided. The margin of sampling error was 4.5 percentage points.

In the same poll, 63 percent said they approved of Bush's performance as president, but a third of those voters said they favored or leaned toward Chandler. Bush's approval rating was 47 percent in a national poll conducted last week by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

Chandler began the race with a decided edge in name recognition. He was elected to statewide office three times - as state auditor and twice as attorney general. His grandfather, A.B. "Happy" Chandler, was twice governor, a U.S. senator and commissioner of baseball.

Chandler's lead, coupled with Bush's apparent popularity in the region, "indicates there can't be too much of a Bush factor" in the 6th District race, said Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

Gershtenson said the struggle for control of the U.S. House may be a greater factor. Republicans have a 228-204 House majority.

Democrats once ruled the Kentucky congressional delegation but are down to a single officeholder, Rep. Ken Lucas.

TV viewers have seen weeks of hard-hitting commercials paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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