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Teachers, Battle For Congress Highlight Kentucky Primaries

Posted at 6:38 AM, May 22, 2018

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky voters head to the polls Tuesday for primary elections that will decide a testy Democratic primary for a congressional seat and gauge the influence of teachers in statehouse races.
    
The crowded Democratic contest in the 6th Congressional District pitted front-runners stressing their backgrounds. One is a mayor and a successful businessman, the other a combat-tested fighter pilot.
    
"It’s a competitive campaign," Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said Monday. "That’s what people actually like. When you’ve got a competitive campaign, the voters get interested."
    
Amy McGrath, who flew 89 combat missions before retiring from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel, sounded at peace with her first campaign during her appearances Monday.
    
"I’ve already gotten my message out as much as I can," she said.
    
The winner of the six-candidate primary will almost certainly challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, who is expected to breeze to the GOP nomination against challenger Chuck Eddy. Barr is seeking a fourth term in a district stretching from the bluegrass counties around Lexington to the Appalachian foothills.
    
Campaigns for the state legislature and courthouse posts were creating plenty of noise, too.
    
A county clerk’s race in eastern Kentucky offers a potentially intriguing November matchup: A gay man running against the woman who denied him a marriage license in 2015 and went to jail for it. But first, David Ermold would have to win a crowded Democratic primary in Rowan County if he’s to challenge Republican Kim Davis in the fall.
    
Meanwhile, at least 40 current or retired educators are seeking legislative seats, part of a national movement of teachers seeking better conditions for the classroom. Of those candidates, 16 have primary elections Tuesday, including four challenging GOP incumbents.
    
The most high-profile race involves Republican Rep. Jonathan Shell, the House majority floor leader and one of the architects of a new law revising the state’s troubled retirement systems.
    
That law prompted thousands of teachers to protest at the state Capitol this year, forcing dozens of school districts to close for a day. R. Travis Brenda, a math teacher at Rockcastle County High School, hopes to capitalize on that anger to defeat Shell.
    
Hotly contested races reached into the judicial branch, with three judges vying for a seat on the Kentucky Supreme Court.
    
Competing to represent the 3rd Supreme Court District in southern and south-central Kentucky are state Court of Appeals Judge Debra Hembree Lambert and Circuit Court judges David Tapp and Daniel Ballou. The two top vote-getters in the nonpartisan race will face off in November.
    
In the high-profile 6th District race, both Gray and McGrath raised more than $1 million. McGrath criticized Gray during a televised debate as being recruited by establishment Democrats. Gray responded with a TV ad later chiding McGrath for not living in the district for the past two decades during her military service.
    
"We are illustrating all the issues in the campaign, and people care about their elected representatives," Gray said Monday in defending the ad.
    
McGrath has called it an attack against any military veteran coming home to serve in another way. She grew up in northern Kentucky and moved to the district last year after retiring from the Marines.
    
In the 3rd District, three Republicans are seeking the chance to challenge U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Kentucky Democrat in Congress. GOP candidates in the Louisville-area district include the state’s former top ranking health official, Vickie Yates Brown Glisson.
    
One of Tuesday’s most intriguing races is in Rowan County, where four Democrats are vying to challenge the Republican County Clerk, Davis. Davis made international news in 2015 by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious beliefs. She was briefly jailed before the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law removing clerks’ names from the licenses.
    
Ermold, one of the gay men denied a marriage license that year, attracted more than $200,000 in campaign donations from across at least 48 states. But he has to win over voters wary of reliving the 2015 media scrutiny. Other candidates include James Jessee, Nashia Fife and Elwood Caudill Jr., a 20-year veteran of the county property valuation office who lost to Davis by just 27 votes in the 2014 primary.
    
Davis, who ran as a Democrat in 2014, later switched to the GOP.
    
The polls will be open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time Tuesday.