Oct 29, 2010 9:56 PM
LOUISVILLE. (AP) - A few key races will determine whether Democrats can gain a majority in the Kentucky Senate, where they haven't been in power for more than a decade.
But the chairman of the state Republican Party says the GOP is better poised to add seats in the Senate, thanks to stronger candidates and a national mood that seems to favor Republican candidates.
The GOP holds a 20-17 majority in the Senate, along with one independent who typically votes with Republicans.
Fifteen of the Senate's 38 seats are being contested in this year's Nov. 2 election; another four senators - three of them Republican - are running unopposed.
"We're really excited about several races, and I don't think we're ceding any of them as unwinnable," said Matt Erwin, communications director for the state Democratic Party.
Erwin said Democrats have momentum after winning two special elections for Senate seats last year.
But Republican Party chair Steve Robertson said the GOP has a better chance to make Senate gains on election day.
"I really don't have a reason to think that the Republican Senate majority won't be bigger when this election is over with," Robertson said.
Democrats acknowledge they are wary of a national mood that pollsters and prognosticators say could lead to major gains by Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate.
"Obviously it's a very tough year for Democrats," state party chairman Daniel Logsdon said.
The District 2 seat in western Kentucky held by the Senate's only independent, Bob Leeper, is one of a handful Democrats are targeting. Leeper faces Paducah businessman Rex Smith, a former Democratic state representative, and Republican William Michael East of Kevil, who is running a limited campaign.
Smith had spent more than $360,000 on the race as of Oct. 1, according to the state finance records. Leeper, running for his sixth term, had raised a total of about $94,000 in that time.
Robertson said Leeper, who has twice changed party affiliations over the years, is a "rock star," and well-known by the people in his district.
"It would appear that this is a year where being an independent is a good thing," he said.
State Democrats said they are also hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Alice Forgy-Kerr in Lexington's 12th District.
Kerr, who has held the seat since 1999, is being challenged by retired Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, who had brought in more than $104,000 since Oct. 1. Kerr has kept pace, raising more than $94,000 for her campaign.
Robertson declined to point to any races where Republicans were hoping to unseat an incumbent Democrat.
"We are looking at all of them," he said.
Bowling Green Democrat Mike Reynolds could face a tough challenge from Republican Mike Wilson, a Christian radio executive, in the 32nd District. Reynolds won the seat in a special election last year after Brett Guthrie left to run for Congress.
Another special election winner, Robin Webb, a Democrat from Grayson, has been rematched with Flatwoods Republican Jack Ditty, whom she narrowly defeated last year in a three-way race for the District 18 seat.
And Richmond Internet executive Lee Murphy, a Democrat, is facing Republican Jared Carpenter, a Berea banker, for the open 34th District seat left by Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley, who is retiring. A third candidate, Donald Paul VanWinkle of Berea, is representing the Evangelical Christian Party.
In the state House, Democrats hold a 65-35 advantage over Republicans.
Robertson said Republicans have fielded challengers against 43 incumbent Democrats, while Democrats are challenging just nine Republican House members.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)