- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — This Bluegrass Region, home to horse and tobacco farms, has a history of sending Republicans to Congress. Its previous congressman, Ernie Fletcher — now governor of Kentucky — won every county in the district in 2000 and 2002, and President Bush carried the state by 15 points over Al Gore in 2000.

Today, in a special election to fill Mr. Fletcher’s seat, a Democrat just might win. Former Attorney General Ben Chandler, who was beaten decisively by Mr. Fletcher in November, is leading in a short, intense race for that 6th District seat.

If he wins, it would be the first time nationwide since 1991 that Democrats have won a Republican-held seat in a special election.

Recent polls show Mr. Chandler ahead of his opponent, Republican state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr. Libertarian Mark Gailey also is on the ballot, but trails significantly.

The district is conservative, and Mrs. Kerr has tied herself to President Bush in some campaign advertising. But she trailed Mr. Chandler in a poll published last week — one that showed Mr. Bush with a high approval rating among likely voters.

Mr. Chandler began the race with an edge in name recognition. He was elected to statewide office three times — as state auditor and twice as attorney general. His grandfather, A.B. “Happy” Chandler, was governor, a U.S. senator and commissioner of baseball.

For Mr. Chandler, the stakes are high as he tries to make a comeback quickly after a bruising defeat.

“I think he has to win to have a career,” said Dale Emmons, a Democratic consultant in Richmond who worked for some of Mr. Chandler’s past political rivals. “He rolled the dice after he lost the governor’s race last November.”

Republicans currently hold a 228-204 majority in the House, with a Democratic-leaning independent and two vacancies, including the one in the 6th District.

“The partisan divisions in the Senate and House are still pretty darn narrow, so every seat is significant,” said Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

In last week’s Courier-Journal’s Bluegrass Poll of 466 self-described likely voters, 49.4 percent said they supported Mr. Chandler and 39.6 percent said they supported Mrs. Kerr. Eleven percent were undecided. The margin of sampling error was 4.5 percentage points, indicating Mr. Chandler had at least a modest lead. The poll also showed 63 percent approving of Mr. Bush’s performance as president.

Mrs. Kerr has promised to vote to make Mr. Bush’s federal tax cuts permanent. She accused Mr. Chandler of “waffling” on tax cuts, but Mr. Chandler insisted he never opposed them. He said they should have gone to everyone.

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