Bruce’s list of primaries to watch on May 17 Skip to content

Bruce’s list of primaries to watch on May 17

Are you ready for the big race? Not the Derby, silly — the primary election ten days after that! Here are my picks for some primary races to watch.

6 min read

This weekend, all eyes are on Churchill Downs for “the greatest two minutes in sports.” Ten days later, a much smaller group of eyes will be watching election returns from this year’s Kentucky primary election.

Some races are already decided, since there is no opponent. Others might as well be, as one candidate seems to be way ahead. But there are some primary elections that are worth paying attention to, for various reasons.

Here, then, is my personal list of election returns I’ll be following that Tuesday night. You may have a different list; feel free to use the comments to share any interesting races you think I’ve missed.

And one side note before we get to the list: Many of these primaries are actually the only election for the seat, because no one from the other party has filed. So if you, the candidate, know that, why wouldn’t you throw all your money and effort into the primary? In a number of the races, candidates have thousands of dollars left that they haven’t spent, with just a few days to the election. I don’t understand why they are not following the sports adage “Leave it all on the field.” Maybe they’re holding it for their reelection bid. Guess what, folks – you can’t get reelected if you don’t get elected in the first place.

On to the list ...

The “Big One” – 3rd Congressional District, Dem

This race has gotten enough ink and pixels that you can no doubt name the candidates: state Senator Morgan McGarvey and state Representative Attica Scott. Scott declared last year long before we found out John Yarmuth was retiring. On the same day Yarmuth announced his retirement, McGarvey jumped into the race.

McGarvey has a huge lead in fund-raising, and is probably going to win this primary handily. However, Scott has her own base, and stranger things have happened. We shall see – but like almost everyone else, I expect McGarvey to be the next Congress-person from Louisville.

The other 3rd CD race, Repub

Lost in the noise of the McGarvey-Scott race is the 3rd District race on the other side. Who will be the Repub candidate this fall?

Stuart Ray and Mike Craven are the main R candidates in the race. Ray has out-raised Craven about 3 to 1, and anecdotally seems to have more signs out.

The incumbents redistricted against each other

As the Republicans gerrymandered the redistricting maps this year, they forced four of their own to run against each other. The obvious question is “Why?”

KY House 12, Repub

This district gets to choose between long-time rep Jim Gooch (first elected in 1994) and Lynn Bechler (elected in 2012). Bechler is part of the far-right “Maddox gang” in the House, concerned with masks and guns. Perhaps the leadership is fighting off challenges from their right, and wants to get rid of Bechler? If so, it seems to be working, based on fund-raising. Gooch has raised about $27,000 for this race, while Bechler has raised about $14,000.

KY House 97, Repub

Unlike the H-12 race, which seems to be a play by leadership against Bechler, this race isn’t as easy to figure out. Why put Norma Kirk-McCormick and Bobby McCool against each other?

I spent some time looking at bills they sponsored, votes they made, and other factors, and still can’t figure it out. They’re very similar in their voting record. They both seem to support the bills leadership wants. McCool is possibly more willing to work across the aisle, but only a bit.

They are about even on money raised all time, but McCool has put pretty much all of it into the race at this point, while Kirk-McCormick has held back about 30% of what she has raised. Last-minute push? Who knows. (And if any of you have any insights into why these two got placed into the same district, let me know.)

Get your popcorn ready

Here are a three races that are fascinating in the details, and worth seeing how they shake out.

KY House 30, Dem

In this race, we’re going to see if money can overcome incumbency. Rep. Tom Burch was first elected to the KY House in 1972 (!), out of office in 1975, then elected again in 1978, and has been there ever since. In other words, he started his current service the same year his opponent, Daniel Grossberg, was born.

Both candidates have garnered notable endorsements: Dem caucus chair Joni Jenkins for Burch, and Louisville city council president David James for Grossberg.

As for the $$$:

  • Burch has raised about $38,000 – BUT, $27,000 of that was a carry-over from his previous campaign.
  • Grossberg has raised about $133,000 (!) – BUT, $105,000 of that was a loan he made to his campaign.

Grossberg is trying to get Burch to do a debate, but so far nothing has been scheduled.

KY House 43, Dem

Here’s another race where the incumbent is facing a formidable challenger. And the differences in their candidacies are very interesting.

Colonel Pam Stevenson is the incumbent, with a great backstory. She retired from the Air Force (thus the Colonel appellation), serving around the world as a negotiator. I interviewed her on Moving Kentucky Forward, and was both impressed and inspired by her passion for public service and for her district.

Robert LeVertis Bell is the challenger, with his own, very different backstory. His web site notes that he “learned the importance of community organizing, stuffing envelopes and walking picket lines with his grandmother, community activist Mattie Jones.” He helped found the BRYCC House, an arts and activism community center that served Louisville’s youth and music cultures. And, he’s basically been doing activist work ever since.

When you dig into their fund-raising, the difference is striking. Stevenson’s money is coming mostly in larger donations: $100, $250, and beyond. Bell’s fund-raising, though, has been a large number of small donations, most of them less than $50, and many as small as a dollar. (I was particularly struck by one donation where “unemployed” was the occupation listed.)

Yet, even with the small size of the donations he is getting, Bell is ahead in fund-raising, having raised $39,000 all time to Stevenson’s $33,000.

And one more thing to note: Bell says right up front that he is a Democratic Socialist. I’m not sure of the history, but if he wins, I think it would be the first DSA member to serve in the House.

KY Senate 22, Repub

If you refuse to follow a mask ordinance for your business, then turn around and sue the Democratic governor over it, does that make you a good candidate for the state Senate? Apparently in Kentucky, it absolutely does. AND, it helps you raise more money than the incumbent.

Andrew Cooperrider is challenging the incumbent, Donald Douglas, for the 22nd district seat in the Kentucky Senate. As of the last report, Cooperrider had raised about $125,000 to Douglas’s $113,000. They both have about the same amount of cash on hand.

Douglas is a Republican, so it’s not like he is some flaming liberal. But Cooperrider is definitely in the far-right masks-and-guns camp of Maddox et al. On his site, he lists these priorities: make Kentucky a 2nd-amendment Sanctuary State; eliminate many taxes (I’m not sure which ones, though); charter schools for all; get rid of masks in schools; also get rid of mask mandates; and stop students from being required to fill out a FAFSA to graduate.

Will be interesting to see what the good people of Senate District 22 do with this race.

Four more to watch

KY House 36, Repub

This is Jerry Miller’s seat in east Louisville. This is also the most expensive Republican primary, by far. Only a few Repubs have raised $50,000 or more, and three of them are in this race:

  • Richard Crawford – 100,285 all time
  • John Hodgson – 65,359
  • David Howser – 50,001

There’s no Dem in this race, so whomever wins the primary is the new rep for H 36.

KY House 21, Repub

This is a five-way Repub primary. Amy Neighbors looks to be ahead based on $$, but anything’s possible.

KY House 34, Dem

This is a Dem-only race, with Jonathan Lowe and Sarah Stalker as the two candidates. They are about even in money raised all-time, but I’ve seen lots more Stalker signs out there.

KY House 91, Repub

Here’s a case of an incumbent being significantly out-raised by an opponent. Bill Wesley is the opponent, with about $29,000 all-time. Darrell Billings is the challenger, with almost $46,000 all-time. BUT, once again, Billings has only spent about $7,000 on the primary. Will be interesting to see if his confidence is warranted.

And one last fun one

KY House 100, Repub plus Write-In

This race has the incumbent, Scott Sharp, running only against a write-in candidate, Deborah Criss, with no Dem in the race. And what is interesting/fun about it? Neither candidate has spent a penny on the race.

I mean, Sharp is surely going to win. But frankly, I would love to see Criss win, just for the fun of it.


Print Friendly and PDF

Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

Twitter Facebook Website Louisville, KY



The Daily Wrap for Monday, 5/20

The Daily Wrap for Monday, 5/20

A very light news day, with most of the focus on the arrest of the golfer at the PGA last week. Of note, though, is Heather Cox Richardson’s summary of President Biden’s commencement speech at Morehouse.

Members Public