Saturday, February 21, 2004

McConnell predicts more gains for GOP

Democrats 'looking over their shoulders' despite Chandler victory, he says

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Republicans probably won't be able to take over the Kentucky House of Representatives, but the GOP can pick up a number of seats this fall, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Friday.

McConnell, a Louisville Republican and the Senate whip, said Democrats in Kentucky are "looking over their shoulder" at gains the Republicans have made in state politics.

"We're likely to gain seats in the House," where Democrats hold a 65 to 35 edge.

In Northern Kentucky, Wilder Republican Mark Hayen is running for the 67th House seat in Campbell County.

Incumbent Democrat Jim Callahan is retiring and three Democrats are running in the May primary - Ken Rechtin, Carol Rich and Dennis Keene.

Democrats showed their concerns recently when 31 Democratic House members announced a new group called Commonwealth Democrats. They say they're conservatives and vow to vote together on many issues.

The new Commonwealth Democrats make up almost half the 65 Democrats in the Kentucky House of Representatives, McConnell said.

"What that tells you is that the Democratic label is not so good anymore and that they need to repackage themselves and pretend they are something else.

"I think that's a further indication of the shift in the Republican direction in Kentucky," he said.

McConnell said he was not surprised by Democrat Ben Chandler's victory over Republican state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr in Tueday's special election in the 6th Congressional District, a 16-county area that surrounds Lexington.

The election was held to fill the congressional seat Republican Ernie Fletcher vacated after beating Chandler in November's gubernatorial race.

Chandler enjoyed strong name identity from running a race for governor and for spending 12 years in statewide office, four as auditor and the last eight as attorney general.

"Ben Chandler had a lot of great advantages going into the election," McConnell said. "Sen. Kerr had two months to make that up, and it proved to be impossible. So my hat is off to Ben Chandler."

McConnell, who drafted Forgy Kerr into the race, said he was surprised by Chandler's 13-point margin of victory.

Chandler must run two more times this year, in the May Democratic primary and November's general election.

"Chandler ran a good campaign ... and he's in a pretty formidable position now that he's the incumbent," McConnell said. "He'll be hard to beat."

But Chandler's victory is not a sign that the Republicans are losing the momentum in Kentucky, McConnell said. The GOP still holds six of the eight seats in Kentucky's Washington delegation, the governor's mansion and the state Senate.

"It doesn't shift the political equation much in Kentucky," he said.


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