POLITICS

The field for Kentucky's primary election is set. Here are 5 takeaways and races to watch

Chevalier Mahone walks into the polling place at the Kentucky African American Heritage Center in west Louisville the day before Election Day for early voting. Nov. 2, 2020.
Morgan Watkins Joe Sonka
Louisville Courier Journal

Time's up to sign up as candidates in May's primary election, and the list of who did (and didn't) join the ballot has interesting implications for this election season.

Kentucky hit the filing deadline Tuesday for candidates in local, state and federal races, setting the slate for the May 17 Democratic and Republican primaries.

Before we get into what's in store for the election, though, here's one big caveat:

There's an outside chance people could get another opportunity to sign up — at least for Kentucky's state legislative or U.S. House of Representatives seats — depending on what happens with the Kentucky Democratic Party's lawsuit over the Republican-run legislature's new redistricting maps. 

Background:Here's the GOP's plan to redo congressional districts, including Yarmuth's

With that now said, here are five takeaways about where things stand and several races worth watching in Louisville and across the state:

Democrats leave legislative races unchallenged

Republicans already hold a dominant supermajority in each of the Kentucky General Assembly's chambers, with a 75-24 advantage in the House and 30-8 margin in the Senate.

Based on the number of races where Democrats did not even field a challenger this time around, Republicans' supermajorities do not appear to be in any jeopardy.

While Republicans are fielding at least one candidate in 89 of the 100 races for state House, Democrats filed in only 60 of the races — leaving Republicans assured of at least 40 seats before a single vote is cast.

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The story is the same in the Senate — where 19 of the chamber's 38 seats are up in 2022 — with Republicans landing a candidate in all but one race and Democrats conceding 10 races with no candidate.

Democrats' prospects of gaining ground appear gloomier when examining some of the races where they failed to field a candidate, including in several House and Senate districts within or including Jefferson and Fayette counties — the party's best strongholds — where at least a competitive general election challenge seemed possible.

Incumbent vs. incumbent battles

Thanks to the legislature’s recently enacted redistricting plans, three pairs of incumbent lawmakers are poised to face off.

The GOP's showdowns will be between Reps. Bobby McCool and Norma Kirk-McCormick in Eastern Kentucky's House District 97 and Reps. Lynn Bechler and Jim Gooch Jr. in Western Kentucky's District 12.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Mary Lou Marzian and Josie Raymond of Louisville are both seeking the seat in District 41.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, argues over changes to House rules on the opening day of the Kentucky legislature. Jan 4, 2022

The election for that district — which GOP lawmakers shifted out of predominantly Black west Louisville in a redistricting move Democrats and other groups have criticized — is pretty crowded on the other side, as three people signed up for the GOP primary: Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, Carrie Sanders McKeehan and Bryan Shepherd.

More:'Political redlining' or better representation? How GOP redistricting affects the West End

Redistricting also put Democratic Reps. McKenzie Cantrell and Lisa Willner of Louisville in the same district. However, they won’t compete because Cantrell is running for the Kentucky Court of Appeals, instead.

Willner is in a good spot now. She's the only person who filed to run for District 35.

GOP legislative primaries aplenty

With Democrats having virtually no chance of gaining back a majority in either chamber this fall, the Republican caucuses will possess an enormous amount of power in the following two years.

This year's Republican primaries will play a large role in determining what the majority of each chamber's GOP caucus looks like, as different ideological factions buck for power and policy priorities.

One small but growing wing of the GOP is the so-called "liberty" movement, led by Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, and inspired by U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie — taking not only a hardline stance on government spending and taxation, but also demanding legislation to ban private employers from adopting vaccine mandates.

Outside the state Capitol, Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, shows support for protesters who wanted Kentucky to reopen during the pandemic. Gov. Andy Beshear was giving his daily COVID-19 update at the time. More than 100 people protested. April 15, 2020

This movement has already landed allied challengers to House GOP incumbents such as Reps. Samara Heavrin, Kim King and Adam Koenig, while Courtney Gilbert — the sister of Republican Sen. Adrienne Southworth — filed on deadline day to primary Rep. Brandon Reed, the co-chair of the House budget committee.

In the Senate, liberty candidate Andrew Cooperrider — one of the petitioners attempting to impeach Gov. Andy Beshear last year — was redrawn out of the Lexington district he filed for, so he instead filed Tuesday to challenge GOP Sen. Donald Douglas, who just recently took office after his special election victory.

Elbowing will also take place between GOP factions with different views on sports gaming, historical horse racing slots and gas tax modernization, with 35 House races and eight Senate races having at least two Republican candidates.

Louisville full of competitive primaries

Voters in Louisville will have plenty of candidates in different races to choose from this May, starting near the top of the ballot with the race for mayor — with Democrats fielding eight candidates and Republicans fielding four.

Several different Metro Council races have primaries packed with Democratic candidates, with six candidates filing to run in District 9 with the retirement of Councilman Bill Hollander and five running in District 15 with Councilman Kevin Triplett not running for reelection.

Both parties also have competitive primaries in the county clerk race, while County Attorney Mike O'Connell faces two primary challengers — including Karl Price, a former assistant county attorney that he fired seven years ago over derogatory remarks made about different groups.

County Attorney Mike O'Connell spoke during a press conference announcing a $12 million dollar settlement in the civil suit against the city of Louisville in the Breonna Taylor case. Sept. 15, 2020

And last but not least is a packed slate of nonpartisan judicial races, where the top two finishers in the primary advance to the general election.

In the Jefferson Circuit Court races, four of the races for the 13 division seats have at least three candidates.

Cantrell is running for Jefferson County's state Court of Appeals seat held by Chief Judge Denise Clayton, who's not seeking reelection. She's joined in the race by three-term District Judge Annette Karem and civil and appellate attorney Stan Whetzel.

It's Scott vs. McGarvey

It's official: Rep. Attica Scott and Sen. Morgan McGarvey will be the only Democrats who go toe-to-toe in the primary for retiring U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth's congressional seat.

When Louisville's longtime congressman announced he wouldn't run for reelection, there was plenty of speculation about how packed the Democratic primary could get in solidly blue Jefferson County.

Attica Scott talks with Beth Bissmeyer during a meet and greet after Scott announced on July, 7, 2021, that she will run for Rep. John Yarmuth's seat in 2022.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey points to recognize fellow senator Reginald Thomas during the Senate floor session at the state capitol in Frankfort on April 14, 2020.

Scott and McGarvey were the first Democrats to launch campaigns, and in the end no one else in their party decided to climb into the ring.

The GOP primary is much more crowded, with Daniel Cobble, Mike Craven, Justin Gregory, Darien Barrios Moreno, Rhonda Palazzo, Gregory Puccetti and Stuart Ray running.

More:With Yarmuth retiring, what does Louisville want in its next member of Congress?

The other topline congressional race in Kentucky is for Sen. Rand Paul's seat.

Former state Rep. Charles Booker is the most high-profile of the Democrats who filed to run, although he faces primary challenges from Joshua Wesley Blanton Sr. and Ruth Gao of Louisville and from John Merrill of McKee. 

Paul also has primary challengers, though he's the clear favorite to win. Republicans Arnold Blankenship of Ashland; Valerie Fredrick of Murray; Paul Hamilton of Nicholasville; John Schiess of Rice Lake, Wisconsin; and Tami Stainfield of Marion all joined the ballot.

Back in the U.S. House, all five of Kentucky's incumbent Republicans are up for reelection and they all have at least one challenger. 

Morgan Watkins is The Courier Journal's chief political reporter. Contact her at mwatkins@courierjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @morganwatkins26. Contact Joe Sonka at jsonka@courierjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joesonka.