As the GOP is scrambling to put as many Democratic-held seats in play as possible, the filing deadline passed in the 3rd and 4th states of the cycle: Kentucky and West Virginia. The good news for Democrats is that all four of their incumbents are running for re-election, which was not necessarily a given when the month started.
(Interestingly, no Democrats retired in the two states whose filing deadline had already passed. That does suggest that the increasingly worsening environment explains the mounting number of Democratic retirements and that the party is lucky that their 23 Illinois and Texas representatives had to make up their mind earlier than their Arkansas or Tennessee colleagues.)
One of Democrats’ worst surprises in the 2000 presidential election, West Virginia has gotten even more comfortable voting Republican ever since but they have remained loyal to Democrats at the non-presidential level. The party still holds all of the statewide positions, including the 2 Senate seats, the Governor’s Mansion and 4 other state-level positions.
Thankfully for Democrats, none of these positions are up for grabs in 2010, so they will maintain full control all the way to 2012, where there should be an all-out battle for Robert Byrd’s Senate seat in what could be the state’s first open race in 28 years. (Does anyone think it’s even remotely possible Byrd seeks a 10th term?) Over in the state legislature, Democrats are in no danger of losing their majorities: 69-31 in the lower chamber, 26-8 in the upper chamber.
WV-1: Republicans were ardently hoping 67-year old Alan Mollohan would retire, but Mollohan will be on the November ballot as he not only is running for re-election but is facing no primary opponents. He will face a competitive general election: the NRCC recruited businessman, former state party chairman and potential self-funder David McKinley, who served in the House of Delegates from 1981 to 1994. McKinley was expected to face a tough primary against state Senator Clark Barnes, who was highly touted by the GOP when he jumped in back in September; yet, Barnes appears to have dropped out: his name is not listed on the Secretary of State’s website. McKinley will have to beat 5 Republicans, however: Cindy Hall, Patricia Levenson, Sarah Minear, Thomas Stark, Mac Warner.
[Update: Mollohan landed a primary challenge who entered the race so last-minute that the SoS's website had not included his name when I checked the list of candidates this morning! State Senator Mike Oliverio, who has served in the Senate since 1994, announced he would seek the Democratic nomination, a surprise candidacy given how rarely entrenched incumbents face primary challenges. There is a reason for that, of course: It is typically tough for primary candidates to get much traction, so until we see how Oliverio intends to gain traction Mollohan will remain heavily favored to move on to the general election. Yet, Mollohan has conducted very little fundraising as of late so this challenge could wear him thin. The primary will be held on May, which should leave both parties' nominees time to rebound.]
WV-2: The district that gave John McCain his smallest margin of victory is the only one to be held by a Republican, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Democrats barely tried to oust her in 2006 and 2008, which they will probably come to regret in 2012, as Capito is the GOP’s most (only?) credible Senate candidate. But it is now too late to address that. Only one candidate filed to challenge Capito, so we already know that November will oppose the incumbent to Virginia Lynch Graf, a former nun.
WV-3: Democrats were far less worried about a potential retirement by Rep. Nick Rahall, but in recent months they still grew worried the 60-year old congressman might choose to call it quits. At the end of the day, he did no such thing, to Democrats’ relief. Three Republicans filed to run against him: Conrad G. Lucas, a former legislative aide to Rep. Capito; Marty Gearheart, whose website appears to contain no personal information; and nurse anesthetist Lee Bias. While Rahall is favored to win re-election, he should beware of a red wave; in particular, Lucas’s D.C. connections could help him fundraise and gain the NRCC’s attention.
The cycle’s stakes are higher in neighboring Kentucky because the state is hosting a highly competitive open Senate seat, the only statewide race that will be on the ballot this year. Indeed, all state-level positions - for Governor, Secretary of State, etc. - are filled in odd years.
Senate: LG Dan Mongiardo and AG Jack Conway head the Democratic field, though 3 other Democrats entered the race: doctor Jack Buckmaster, Darlene Price and businessman Maurice Sweeney will also be on the ballot. On the Republican side, SoS Trey Grayson’s dream of being the GOP front-runner has been shattered by Rand Paul’s momentum but at least he will not have to worry about competing with another candidate with establishment-backing: Former Ambassador Cathy Bailey floated her name a few months ago but she did not file for the race.
4 other Republicans joined Grayson and Paul, however. Bill Johnson, Gurley Martin, Jon Scribner and John Stephenson, who is the only one who might catch our attention since he did win the statewide office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Yet, not only was his victory back in 1991, but voters abolished the office within a year! In 2000, Stephenson ran for a state Senate seat as a Democrat, which will obviously make it tough for him to gain any traction in the GOP primary.
KY-1, KS-4 and KS-5: In districts that gave McCain 62%, 60% and 67%, respectively, GOP incumbents should coast to re-election. Rep. Edward Whitfield and Rep. Geoff Davis are heavily favored to beat Charles Kendall Hatchett and John Waltz, their sole Democratic challengers. In KS-5, Kenneth Stepp, David Price and James Holbert are all seeking the Democratic nomination, though none should threaten Rep. Rogers.
KS-2: Rep. Brett Guthrie is no more vulnerable than the three Republicans listed above, but it is worth discussing him separately since he is a freshman who won a narrow first victory in 2008, when a Democratic state Senator put up a top-tier effort. But this year real estate agent Ed Marksberry should not be much of a match in a district that gave McCain 62%.
KS-3: The state’s only district that voted for Barack Obama did so by a decisive 13%, so Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth is not at the top of the GOP’s target list. Yet, he is only a two-term lawmaker in a seat long represented by Republican Anne Northup, and 5 Republicans filed to run against him: Jerry Durbin, financial adviser Larry Hausman, UPS pilot Todd Lally, Pizza Hut restaurant Jeff Reetz and Brooks Wicker. Yarmuth would be ill-advised to take the cycle for granted, but it would be a big surprise if KY-3 is on the map come the fall.
KY-6: Like KY-3, this is one district in which the filing deadline was too early for the NRCC to make the most of the newly improved landscape. 6 Republicans filed to challenge Rep. Ben Chandler, who has been one of the leaders of the state Democratic Party from his days as Attorney General and as the party’s gubernatorial nominee: Perry Barnes, attorney Andy Barr, John Kemper, Matt Lockett, George Pendergrass and retired coal company executive Mike Templeman. Barr is the front-runner: he reported raising more than $100,000 in the fourth quarter, which caught the NRCC’s attention enough that they added him to their “On the radar” list. KY-6 is arguably the state’s only district that has the potential to host a heated race this fall, but the GOP could have recruited a stronger challenger and Chandler remains clearly favored.
State legislature: The Courier Journal reports there was a flurry of GOP recruitment in local races following Scott Brown’s victory. This could help Republicans keep control of the state Senator, in which they have a 21-17 edge following a Democratic pick-up in a springtime special election; but Democrats have too large a majority in the state House to be in danger of losing control. In any case, Democrats are sure not be shut out of the redistricting process since Governor Beshear will be in power through 2011.