House Race Hotbeds

Four Nasty GOP Primaries Decided Today

Posted May 17, 2004 at 6:07pm

Kentucky Republicans will choose their nominee in the 4th district today, a seat national GOPers believe is their strongest House pickup opportunity in the country.

Businessman and 2002 nominee Geoff Davis (R) remains the favorite, although he has come under a withering attack in recent days from attorney Kevin Murphy on taxes and alleged campaign finance irregularities.

“It is unfortunate that Murphy felt like he has to resort to such desperate smear tactics,” said Davis spokesman Justin Brasell.

Murphy consultant Jay Townsend said his candidate hasn’t had a “bad day in the last three weeks and [Davis] has had several of them.”

The winner will face former newspaper columnist Nick Clooney (D) in the open-seat race this fall.

In the state’s 6th district, three Republicans are fighting to take on Rep. Ben Chandler (D), who won a special election in mid-February.

Two Bluegrass State Democrats — state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo and perennial candidate David Williams — are competing for the right to take on Sen. Jim Bunning (R).

Outside of Kentucky, voters in Arkansas and Oregon will also choose their nominees today.

A low-key race for the Republican Senate nomination tops the Natural State ballot while Oregon plays host to two competitive Republican House primaries and a less interesting Republican Senate race.

The focus for both national parties is squarely on Northern Kentucky, as Republicans hope to win back a seat that retiring Rep. Ken Lucas (D) has held since 1998.

Davis, largely unheralded in 2002 when he held Lucas to 50 percent, is the clear favorite of national Republicans this time around.

Relying on the name identification gathered from that race, Davis has run a Rose Garden strategy against Murphy, choosing instead to stockpile funds for the general election.

He has not run a single television or radio ad but has done both positive and negative direct mail. He showed $565,000 in the bank through April 28.

“We feel great going into Tuesday,” said Brasell. “The real campaign begins Wednesday morning at 6 a.m.”

Murphy has not gone quietly, however.

He is currently running radio ads in the Cincinnati and Ashland media market seeking to raise questions in voters’ minds about Davis’ strength in a general election race against Clooney.

The ads note that Davis did not pay business taxes for more than two years, an issue addressed in a television commercial run by Lucas in 2002. Davis has said the company was incorporated in Tennessee because he couldn’t afford to pay health care costs for his employees in Kentucky. He has released 10 years worth of back taxes to counter the attacks.

“There is nothing there,” Brasell said.

The radio spots also hit Davis for a complaint filed earlier this year with the Federal Election Commission by Public Citizen alleging that excessive contributions to his campaign were funneled through an anti-abortion rights group. Townsend said that Davis’ refusal to rebut the charges in the paid media have given his candidate a real chance at victory.

“If we pull this out and I think there is a very good chance of that, it is because they did [not respond],” Townsend said.

In the nearby 6th district, Republicans have also engaged in serious in-fighting in the days leading up to the primary.

After state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R) was soundly defeated by Chandler on Feb. 17, she dropped off the primary ballot.

State Sen. Tom Buford (R) stepped into that void but has had a tougher than expected road to the nomination. Buford has been buffeted by allegations that he delivered a campaign contribution to Chandler during the special election. That led Larry Forgy, a three-time gubernatorial candidate and Kerr’s brother, to endorse attorney Bryan Coffman in the primary.

Don Swarthout is also running for the Republican nomination.

Chandler is a strong favorite in the general election.

Further up the ballot, it appears as though Mongiardo will defeat Williams although in an independent poll conducted in mid-May he led by only 6 points.

Seeking to avoid a repeat of the 2002 Senate primary when heavily-favored Lois Combs Weinberg won in a recount over former Rep. Tom Barlow, Mongiardo has run two weeks of television ads introducing himself to voters. Both ads make mention of Mongiardo’s background as a surgeon and carry the tag line: “Taking care of Kentucky.”

“We are very, very confident going into this race,” said Mongiardo spokesman Eric Niloff, who attributed Williams’ showing in the poll to the fact he shares the same name as the state Senate president.

Oregon: Two House Slugfests

The contests in Arkansas and Oregon have drawn less press attention.

In Oregon, a half-dozen Republicans are battling for the dubious honor of taking on Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a 24-year Congressional veteran with a war chest of more than $4 million.

None of the six contenders has raised significant funds, and of the two nominal frontrunners — radio and cable access talk-show host Bruce Broussard and former Oregon Republican Party Vice Chairman and rancher Al King — only Broussard has reported any cash on hand. The race is most notable for its diversity of candidates — ranging from a naturapathic physician to a fitness guru who touts his service in the Soviet Union Red Army on his résumé.

“They are not sacrificial lambs,” said Oregon political analyst Jim Moore. “They are more like the tics on the lambs.”

Added independent pollster Tim Hibbits: “I can guarantee that I have more name recognition than any of the people running.”

But Republicans have considerably higher hopes for their candidates in the competitive 1st and 5th House districts, where well-funded contenders with attractive personal backgrounds are concluding intense battles for their party’s nomination.

In the 1st district, which runs from Portland to the Pacific Ocean, two wealthy business executives — Goli Ameri and Tim Phillips — appear to be running neck and neck for the chance to take on three-term Rep. David Wu (D). Most political observers give the Iranian-born Ameri the edge, though the presence of a more conservative third candidate, attorney and software executive Jason Meshell, could prove to be a surprising factor.

A poll released late last week by a local NBC affiliate gave Ameri a substantial advantage among likely voters, with 29 percent support to 12 percent for Phillips and 8 percent for Meshell. But the poll, with a margin of error of 10 percent also indicated that 47 percent remained undecided.

In the Willamette Valley 5th district, the contest is considered even closer to call, with businessman and attorney Jim Zupancic battling state Sen. Jackie Winters for the GOP nod against four-term Rep. Darlene Hooley (D).

Some observers give Zupancic the advantage due to his relentless hammering of Winters over her support for a proposed $1.2 billion tax increase, which Oregon voters emphatically rejected in February. But others say Winters’ base in Marion County — the most populous county in the district — could ultimately prove decisive.

That same TV poll put Winters at 38 percent to Zupancic’s 29 percent. With a margin of error of 9 percent, 29 percent of voters remained undecided.

Arkansas: Lincoln Runs Smoothly

Senate Republicans initially believed that the Arkansas race was one of their best opportunities in the country this cycle but were unable to find a strong candidate.

State Sen. Jim Holt (R) appears to be a slight favorite for the nomination, though former Benton County Sheriff Andy Lee carries residual name identification from his 14 years in the crime-fighting post.

At the end of March, Holt had raised $18,000 with $4,000 on hand. Lee had not filed a financial report, and neither had a third candidate, Rosemarie Clampitt. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), who faces primary opposition from political unknown Lisa Burks, had more than $5 million.

In the only other Arkansas primary action today, state Rep. Marvin Parks and businessman Ed Garner will square off for the 2nd district Republican nomination. The winner faces Rep. Vic. Snyder (D) in this Little Rock-based district come November.