Retiring Rep. Geoff Davis had to fight hard to win his Northern Kentucky seat in 2004.
The Republican nominee this year won’t have the same problem. But getting the nomination will be an arduous journey for any of the ambitious GOP candidates vying to replace Davis.
Three weeks before the filing deadline, state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington and Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore are officially in the GOP race. Lewis County Judge-Executive Thomas Massie, affiliated with the tea party movement, appears likely to join the race this week. His bid could set the stage for an establishment-versus-tea-party battle in the Bluegrass State.
“The wild card is Massie,” explained Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state. Grayson lost to now-Sen. Rand Paul in a fiercely contested 2010 GOP primary that solidified into a battle between the party establishment, which backed Grayson, and the tea party, which fervently supported Paul.
“If [Massie] is a well-funded tea party candidate — you saw what happened in my race, that a well-funded tea party candidate can do very well,” Grayson said.
Grayson praised Webb-Edgington and Moore, both of whom backed his Senate bid. Massie supported Paul.
Republicans in Kentucky told Roll Call that Paul has been actively recruiting Massie. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Kentuckian, will not get involved in the primary, a source close to him said.
“I’ve talked with Geoff Davis, I’ve talked with [former Kentucky Sen.] Jim Bunning and I have talked with Rand Paul,” Massie said. He declined to get into the specifics of the conversations.
Webb-Edgington, a fiery former state trooper, appears to have the imprimatur of the GOP establishment and is seen as the early frontrunner in the race. She was the chairwoman of the 4th district Republican Party, elected by the county chairmen and vice chairmen in the district. Her campaign manager is Rick VanMeter, who served as communications director for Davis until earlier this month, and her general consultant is Justin Brasell, who worked with Grayson in 2010 and McConnell in 2008. Both are well-regarded in Kentucky political circles.
“I am not of the establishment. I am a Republican. And I think I represent all paradigms of the Republican Party,” Webb-Edgington said.
Republicans in the state think her work ethic and conservatism may be able to inoculate her from the potentially poisonous label of establishment.
“She’s just got that drive and a lot of time that’s a motivating factor that will ignite people at the grass-roots level,” said one Kentucky Republican with knowledge of the 4th district.
Moore could have a steeper battle against the establishment label. He has served in his position as executive of Boone County since January 1999 — a potential political burden.
In an interview, Moore emphasized his business credentials and Republicans in the state warn not to underestimate him.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.