Kentucky Congressional Primaries Feature Five GOP Incumbents, Democrat Scrap in Louisville

Kentucky’s May 17 primary slate includes inter-party battles for the state’s General Assembly, one United States Senate berth, and six U.S. congressional seats.

For the most part, however, challengers face longer odds in unseating incumbents in most of the preliminary races than 80-1 underdog Rich Strike did in winning the Kentucky Derby earlier in May.

Three days of early voting continues through May 14.

Two-term Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul faces five little-known, marginally financed hopefuls in his GOP primary. His campaign is already targeting his likely November Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Charles Booker.

Beyond general assembly and municipal elections on the ballot, the May 17 action will be in the state’s six congressional districts where five GOP incumbents have significant fundraising advantages over opponents and are projected to advance.

The one race guaranteed to produce a newcomer is in Congressional District 3 (CD 3), where eight-term Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth is retiring. Two state lawmakers are vying for his seat in the Democratic primary for the Louisville-area district, the only one rated by the Cook Partisan Voting Index as leaning blue in the Bluegrass State.

Primary elections are underway despite a lawsuit challenging the refashioned congressional districts in post-2020 Census reapportionment.

The Kentucky General Assembly adopted new electoral district boundaries that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed. On Jan. 20, both chambers overrode the veto in party-line tallies.

That same day the Kentucky Democratic Party filed a 291-page lawsuit in Franklin County Court challenging the new map. Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ordered parties to file briefs by June 15 for a summer trial following the April hearings. Therefore, the new districts are in effect for May 17’s primary.

May 14’s conclusion of a three-day early voting period follows in-person, excused, absentee early voting May 4-6 and May 9-11. Mail-in Absentee ballots were due May 3. The turnout figures for earlier voting periods had not been posted as of Thursday.

State lawmakers created the three-day “no excuses necessary” early voting period during their 2021 legislative session in a rare bipartisan pact to expand voting access. Early votes won’t be counted until after polls close.

Across the six congressional districts, there are 31 candidates; 22 Republicans, including the five incumbents and nine Democrats, sans the party’s lone incumbent.

Congressional District 1

This district, which spans western Kentucky from Franklin County into the central core of the state, is the chief focus of the Democrats’ lawsuit and the only one where November’s field is set.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jamie Comer has no challengers in his bid for a fourth term. The former two-term Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, 12-year state lawmaker, and a gubernatorial candidate is the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee and an ardent advocate of former president Donald Trump.

Like Comer, Democrat Jimmy Ausbrooks faces no opposition in his party’s primary. A mental health counselor, he ran but withdrew from the U.S. Senate in 2020 and is otherwise a relative political newcomer not expected to seriously challenge Comer in November.

April filings with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) show Comer already has more than $1 million in his campaign war chest while Ausbrooks has less than $4,000.

Congressional District 2

Seven-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie faces two GOP challengers, Brent Feher and Lee Watts, in the Republican primary for the district, which spans western Kentucky and includes the cities of Bowling Green, Owensboro, and Elizabethtown.

Guthrie, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has amassed $1.31 million in campaign funding. According to OpenSecrets.org, he has garnered significant financial support from “healthcare professionals,” pharmaceutical companies, and telecom service providers.

His largest individual donors are DaVita ($23,000), Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($15,500), and Centene Corp. ($10,800). Charter Communications, Comcast, First Urology, Molina Healthcare, NCTA, The Internet and Television Association, and the UnitedHealth Group are among organizations that have kicked $10,000 each into his kitty.

Watts, who has campaigned chiefly via his Patriot Point podcast, is a United States Air Force veteran and former chaplain for the Kentucky General Assembly. His April FEC filing showed $52,511 in campaign contributions with Tractor Supply ($2,900) and Richard Treitz Consulting ($2,000), his biggest donors.

Feher, a small business owner from Owensboro and a political newcomer, did not file an April FEC report indicating his campaign contributions were below the reporting threshold.

Barring a shocking upset on May 17, Comer will be heavily favored again in November when he faces the winner of the CD 2 Democratic primary between William Compton and Hank Linderman.

Compton is a 28-year-old high school music teacher and Plum Springs City Commissioner. His FEC April filing listed $2,251 in campaign funding.

Linderman, a Bowling Green musician, recording engineer, and producer, did not file an April FEC report. He was the CD 2 Democratic candidate in 2018 when he lost to Guthrie 66.7 percent to 31 percent, and again in 2020, losing to Guthrie 71 percent to 26 percent.

Congressional District 3

Six Republican candidates are vying for the party’s bid to run in November against a Democratic candidate in the state’s only congressional district where the GOP does not dominate.

The frontrunner appears to be Stuart Ray, founder and CEO of Louisville-based Peregrine, a metals and trucking service, and former Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair. His April FEC filing shows $339,884 in campaign funds with more than $100,000 from his own pocket.

Former union representative and Louisville auto worker Mike Craven, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2018 and 2020, has $110,759 in his campaign coffers, according to his April FEC filing, with $110,000 self-funded.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Gregory Puccetti, who has run in previous congressional races as an independent,  has $25,232 in his campaign account with $20,000 self-funded.

Rhonda Palazzo, a real estate agent and former stockbroker, who was also among also-rans in the GOP’s 2018 and 2020 primaries and has $8,500 in campaign contributions.

Daniel Cobble, an “inventor and problem solver,” and high school computer science teacher Darien Barrios Moreno did not meet the threshold to require an April FEC filing.

The GOP survivor will face the heavily favored winner of the Democratic primary between state Sen. Morgan McGarvey and state Rep. Attica Scott.

After serving a decade in the chamber, McGarvey, the Senate Minority Leader, appears to be the frontrunner by virtue of key endorsements, including by the retiring Yarmuth, who has anointed him as his chosen successor.

As a result, McGarvey had raised more than $1.5 million for his campaign, according to his April FEC filing, with top donors including Brown-Forman Corp. ($24,505); Frost Brown Todd ($24,350); Churchill Downs ($18,100); and the University of Louisville ($14,055).

According to her April FEC filing, Scott, a three-term statehouse rep and former Louisville City Councilwoman had raised $236,476 for her campaign.

She announced her candidacy in July 2021 before Yarmuth announced he was retiring, intending to challenge the entrenched incumbent.

Congressional District 4

If there is any drama in Kentucky’s primaries outside the Democrats battling for Yarmuth’s Louisville-centric CD 3 seat, it is in the GOP’s primary in CD 4, which spans northern Kentucky and includes Louisville’s eastern suburbs.

Five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie faces three challengers in the Republican primary and could be vulnerable to an upset after Trump called him a “third rate grandstander” for voting against a coronavirus relief package.

The good news for him is that Trump has not endorsed any of his opponents, which include perennial independent candidate Alyssa Dara McDowell of Covington, who famously stormed a 2019 Election Night stage to falsely claim incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin had won reelection against Beshears, and Prospect real estate agent Claire Wirth, who argues Massie—recognized as an ultra-conservative—isn’t conservative enough.

Massie had raised $731,985 for his campaign, according to his April FEC filing, with top donors including Majority Committee PAC ($10,000), Saulsbury Industries ($8,700), Runestad Financial Services ($5,800); Susquehanna International Group ($5,800); and Maple Engine ($5,800).

McDowell and a third GOP challenger, George Foking Washington—a filmmaker from Independence who has mostly campaigned via Youtube videos—did not meet thresholds for April FEC filings.

In April, Wirth had $254,120 in campaign donations, with $238,116 self-funded.

The winner of the GOP primary, which may prove more contentious than competitive, will face Democrat Matthew Lehman, who is running unopposed and could give the heavily favored Republican, presumably Massie, a tussle in November.

Lehman is CEO of Louisville-based Koligo Therapeutics, a regenerative medicine company purchased last year by biotech firm Orgenesis for $15 million. He listed $73,218 in campaign funds in his April FEC filing.

Congressional District 5

Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, 84, is seeking a 22nd term in the House. He has represented the district, which spans eastern Kentucky from Somerset to Ashland, for 42 years and is currently the longest-serving member of Congress.

He is heavily favored to remain the senior U.S. House rep after cruising to an expected primary win Tuesday over four challengers and then against a Democratic newcomer in November.

Only the late former U.S. Rep. Don Young has served longer in Congress than Rogers. The Alaska Republican was his state’s lone House rep for 48 years.

Rogers’ chief GOP rivals are Gerardo Serrano, running against him for the fourth time; Somerset physician Richard van Dam; and U.S. Army veteran and London construction contractor Brandon Monhollen.

According to his FEC filing, the incumbent had $453,296 in his campaign coffers in April. Rogers’ largest donors are General Dynamics ($10,000); Harbor Cottage Houseboats ($10,000); Boeing ($9,000); Republic Consulting ($8,750); and Triton Pacific Capital Partners ($8,700).

Serrano’s filing showed $45,841 in campaign funds and Van Dam’s $39,301, mostly self-funded. Monhollen did not file with the FEC.

Heavily-favored Rogers will face Democrat Conor Halbleib, a University of Louisville law student running unopposed in his party’s primary. Through mid-April, his campaign had not filed with the FEC.

Congressional District 6

Five-term incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr is expected to defeat his one primary challenger and then easily cruise past the Democratic primary winner in November.

If bumps emerge on the road to reelection, Barr’s campaign has $2.5 million to smooth them out.

Barr serves on the House China Task Force created to combat the Chinese Communist Party’s threat to the United States and the House Financial Services Committee.

Of the $2.57 million that his campaign reported in contributions in its April FEC filings, Barr’s largest donors come from the securities and Investment industries ($296,497), the insurance industry ($201,362); real estate interests ($158,894); and commercial banks ($91,980).

Barr faces Lexington business owner Derek Leonard Petteys, who describes himself as “not a career politician” and has made term limits a priority issue. Petteys’ campaign did not file an April financial report.

Barring a shock upset in the Republican primary, Barr will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Christopher Preece, a Berea High School science teacher, comic book author-illustrator, and the perennial progressive hopeful Geoff Young of the University of Kentucky.

Young’s campaign reported $96,184 in contributions in its April FEC filing. Preece’s campaign had $28,860 in its coffers.

John Haughey

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John Haughey has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government, state legislatures, and growth and development. A graduate of the University of Wyoming, he is a Navy veteran who fought fires at sea during three deployments aboard USS Constellation. He’s been a reporter for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida; a staff writer for Manhattan-based business trade publications.

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