Longtime lawmakers challenged in Kentucky primary

Kentucky’s Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday will set their slates of statehouse candidates in their ongoing fight for control of the House of Representatives.
    
Contested primaries will be decided in nearly three dozen districts. It’s a dress rehearsal for the November general election when Republicans again will try to take control of the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats.
    
Democrats hold a 53-47 advantage in the House after winning three of four special elections in March. All 100 seats up are for election in November.
    
HOUSE INCUMBENTS CHALLENGED
    
Two longtime lawmakers from Louisville are facing unusually strong primary challenges.
    
Democratic Rep. Tom Riner, whose House career began in the early 1980s, has two challengers: former Louisville Metro Council member Attica Scott and Phillip Baker, an insurance agent and civil-rights activist.
    
On the Republican side, 81-year-old Rep. Ron Crimm, first elected to the House 20 years ago, was trying to fend off challenges from Jason Nemes and Andrew Schachtner.
    
Nemes, 38, is the son of ex-state Rep. Mike Nemes, now deputy secretary of the state Labor Cabinet in Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration. Bevin has not taken sides in the race.
    
KIM DAVIS ALLY
    
Two Republicans are vying for the chance to challenge House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, and one of them has ties to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
    
Randy Smith, a local pastor, organized rallies to support Davis and was often featured in national news stories. The other Republican in the primary is Wendy Fletcher, a nurse practitioner who is president of the Kentucky Coalition of Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Midwives.
    
OPEN SEATS
    
Seven House members decided against seeking new terms – four Democrats and three Republicans. Tuesday’s primary will finalize the field for those races. Looming as battlegrounds this fall are at least three open seats, held by outgoing Democrats Johnny Bell of Glasgow, Mike Denham of Maysville and Leslie Combs of Pikeville. The contest for Combs’ seat was one of the most crowded races for the state House.
    
PARTY SWITCHER
    
Two Louisville Democrats are competing for a chance to unseat Rep. Denver Butler, who pulled a surprise by switching parties to become a Republican last November. His district is heavily Democratic. Vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Butler are Dan Johnson, a Louisville Metro councilman, and McKenzie Cantrell, an attorney.
    
CLOSE CALL
    
Two years ago, Democrat Cluster Howard won a Republican-held district by a mere 14 votes in eastern Kentucky. The Republican he defeated, Toby Herald, is competing to win back his old seat. Herald faces retired educator Randall Christopher in the GOP primary. The winner will challenge Howard in November.

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