Air Wars Begin in Kentucky Race

Kerr, Chandler Face Off in Six Weeks

Posted January 2, 2004 at 5:01pm

With just six weeks remaining before the Feb. 17 special election in Kentucky’s 6th district, both outgoing state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D) and state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R) have taken to the airwaves.

Kerr went up with her first ad of the abbreviated campaign the day after Christmas, as she began the arduous — and expensive — task of raising her name identification to rival Chandler, who is less than two months removed from an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.

“People like Alice Forgy Kerr,” intones the narrator, describing her as a “state Senator who gets results” and a “dedicated Mom.”

The spot, which was produced by Larry McCarthy, goes on to detail her accomplishments since first being elected in 1998, which include passing legislation that expanded Medicaid coverage to low-income women suffering from breast cancer. It is running in the Lexington media market, the first time in Kerr’s political career that she will appear on television in the district’s dominant market.

The ad makes no mention of President Bush or newly elected Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), though Kerr made clear in an interview just before Christmas that she would make the race a referendum on both men.

Fletcher held the seat from 1998 until late last year when he resigned to take over as the state’s first Republican governor in three decades. He defeated Chandler 55 percent to 45 percent statewide and by that same margin in the 6th. Fletcher has already promised to campaign with Kerr.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the most powerful figure in state Republican politics, has also thrown his full support behind Kerr. His Senate chief of staff — Billy Piper — is serving as Kerr’s campaign manager and McConnell held a fundraiser for her campaign just before Christmas. Kerr had raised roughly $200,000 before that event.

Just three days after Kerr began advertising, Chandler launched a TV commercial of his own that discusses his stances on health care, taxes and jobs.

In the spot, Chandler casts himself as “someone who’s on your side and who shares your values.”

“I’m about getting the job done whether it’s standing up to the special interests or reaching across party lines,” Chandler says in the ad, which was produced by Frank Greer.

While Chandler begins the race with a clear edge in early polling over Kerr, mostly based on name recognition, he faces a difficult road to victory.

He must quickly pivot from a gubernatorial campaign where he regularly castigated the “Bush-Fletcher” economy to a federal race in a district where Bush would have received 55 percent of the vote in 2000.

The Kentucky race is likely to serve as a dry run for how much of a role the national Congressional committees will be able to play in competitive House races under the strictures the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act places on them.

Under the new law, neither the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee nor the National Republican Congressional Committee can raise or spend soft money, which in past cycles had been used to fuel huge issue advertising campaigns in targeted House races.

In 2001, the DCCC and the NRCC each spent more than $4 million on a special election in Virginia’s 4th district, far and away the most either doled out on any single House race that cycle.

Neither committee is likely to rival that sort of spending with soft money banned, and neither has any immediate plans to begin advertising in the race, according to aides.

Through November, the NRCC had $8.6 million in the bank to the DCCC’s $5.2 million.

Both parties must contend with another competitive special election in South Dakota’s at-large House seat slated for June 1.

A third special election could be created if — as long rumored — Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) leaves his competitive 3rd district to take a high-profile job in the lobbying community.