Six weeks after the Supreme Court sent shock waves through the political world by lifting long-held bans on corporate and union involvement in federal elections, one district is looking ripe for the new rules to be put into play.
The case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission has opened the door for outside groups to spend unlimited sums on television advertising and other campaign expenditures in federal races, and some Kentucky insiders believe that Rep. Ben Chandlers (D) 6th district will be the test case.
If I were a corporation or if I had an interest in communicating to voters about an easily understood vote, something thats well-known, in a geographic area that certainly understands the real-world economic implications, I cant think of a better place than Lexington and the 6th Congressional district, said Scott Jennings, a longtime Kentucky GOP operative, who serves as a senior strategist at Peritus Public Relations.
Heres one way the scenario might play out.
With its vast underground coal reserves, eastern Kentuckys Appalachian Coal Basin is home to most of the about 500 coal mines that dot the state. The mining industry employs about 18,000 Kentuckians and is a well-funded political player in the state.
And while there are no active mines in the 6th district eastern Kentuckys major coal reserves reside farther east in Republican Rep. Hal Rogers district the area, which includes Lexington, still contains a sizable number of companies and families that rely on the coal industry. Lexington is even home to the offices of the Kentucky Coal Association.
And the coal industry was particularly irked by Chandlers vote last year to support the House cap-and-trade bill. Its a bill that the coal companies believe to be a direct attack on their bottom line. In some parts of the state the legislation is referred to as the major front in President Barack Obamas war on coal.
The 6th is a classic swing district that voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 12 points in the 2008 presidential race.
Its also relatively cheap to run television ads, and a few million dollars dropped in Lexington by coal companies could have a very big effect.
The 6th district is almost entirely contained within the Lexington media market. In terms of dollars per point, Lexington costs about half as much as the Louisville market.
And if they can knock off Chandler, coal and other energy companies opposed to cap-and-trade legislation would have a scalp to hold up as a warning for other Members who vote against energy interests.
This district is not unique, Jennings said. There were a few other districts around the country where you had Democrats in relatively conservative districts voting for cap-and-trade.
Rep. Zack Space in Ohios 18th district, Rep. Harry Teague in New Mexicos 2nd district and Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginias 5th district are three other Democrats in a similar situation.
However, with [the 6th district] being so close to Kentucky coal fields, and this district being home to a lot of people who are affected by the coal industry, I thought [cap-and-trade] was politically a dangerous vote [for Chandler], and certainly its even more dangerous in light of the Supreme Court ruling, Jennings said.
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