‘Anti-Pelosi’ win in state race seen as 2010 pre­cur­sor

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

From the di­rect-mail lit­er­a­ture fea­tur­ing pic­ture af­ter pic­ture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, you would have thought Jimmy Hig­don was run­ning for Congress in this month’s spe­cial elec­tion in Ken­tucky, not a state Se­nate seat.

But Mr. Hig­don’s 12-per­cent­age-point victory over Demo­crat Jodie Hay­don on Dec. 8, in which the Repub­li­can ran squarely against “Nancy Pelosi’s oneparty rule,” has Repub­li­cans ea­gerly talk­ing about the prospects of na­tion­al­iz­ing next year’s midterm elec­tions.

From the floor of the U.S. Se­nate, Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, a Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said Mr. Hig­don sur­vived be­ing out­spent in a district in which Democrats have a strong regis­tra­tion ad­van­tage by run­ning against the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who heads the House and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid on health care.

“He had one mes­sage. One mes­sage. Op­pose the Reid bill, op­pose what Pelosi is do­ing, op­pose what the Democrats in Wash­ing­ton are do­ing,” Mr. McCon­nell said.

Ken­tucky Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Steve Robert­son said party of­fi­cials saw “a sub­stan­tial shift” in voter sen­ti­ment in the district once the House passed its ver­sion of a health care over­haul in early Novem­ber.

“It was some­thing we could look at and see, and it was breath­tak­ing,” he said.

He es­ti­mated that the state party in­cluded pic­tures or re­fer- ences to Mrs. Pelosi on about 50 per­cent of the cam­paign mail it sent out and said vot­ers un­der­stood the dan­gers of one-party rule in Wash­ing­ton and in the state cap­i­tal in Frank­fort.

Democrats, how­ever, said Repub­li­cans have tried the an­tiPelosi strat­egy be­fore with lit­tle suc­cess, in­clud­ing in last month’s spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tion in up­state New York. The Repub­li­can Party fum­bled that race af­ter nom­i­nat­ing a lib­eral Repub­li­can who, fac­ing a chal­lenge from a Con­ser­va­tive Party nom­i­nee, dropped out of the race and en­dorsed Demo­crat Bill Owens.

Mr. Owens nar­rowly won the race, in which in­de­pen­dent con­ser­va­tive groups tried to por­tray him as a rub­ber stamp for Mrs. Pelosi.

Ryan Ru­dominer, a spokesman for the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, said the Repub­li­can Party’s los­ing streak in spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tions — it has lost five con­tested races in a row — should have taught them that run­ning against Mrs. Pelosi on the na­tional level is money poorly spent.

“Na­tional Repub­li­cans need ev­ery penny to de­fend their de­sire to re­turn to the failed Bush poli­cies that left the econ­omy in sham­bles, but they also need to de­fend an elec­toral strat­egy that failed in 2004, 2006, 2008 and just last month in a spe­cial elec­tion to fill a con­gres­sional seat that had been Repub­li­can since the 1800s,” Mr. Ru­dominer said.

Bar­bara Hadley Smith, a spokes­woman for the Ken­tucky Demo­cratic Party, said read­ing na­tional im­pli­ca­tions into the state Se­nate race was “a bit of an over­reach.” She said the con­ser­va­tive bent of the district and Mr. Hig­don’s lo­cal pop­u­lar­ity mat­tered as much as any other fac­tors.

“Did they na­tion­al­ize the race; did it have some im­pact? Yes. But there were a num­ber of fac­tors that went into this race. I don’t think it has na­tional im­pli­ca­tions,” she said.

Joseph Gerth, a colum­nist for the Louisville Courier-Jour­nal, wrote Dec. 14 that the na­tion­al­ref­er­en­dum the­ory over­looks the im­por­tance of voter-turnout op­er­a­tions in spe­cial elec­tions and said Repub­li­cans had a strong lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion. He also said the pro-life move­ment man­aged to dent the Demo­crat, a ma­jor fac­tor in the heav­ily Catholic district.

Be­fore ev­ery con­gres­sional elec­tion, both par­ties ar­gue over whether it will be a na­tional elec­tion, de­cided on big over­ar­ch­ing is­sues, or a lo­cal elec­tion in which candidates run on more parochial con­cerns. In 2006, Repub­li­cans thought the midterms would fo­cus on lo­cal is­sues, and they lost big — ced­ing con­trol of Congress to Democrats in the process.

Repub­li­cans now say the Ken­tucky elec­tion, cou­pled with last month’s two Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial wins in Vir­ginia and New Jer­sey, sug­gest a na­tional strat­egy can work for them in 2010.

The Ken­tucky state Se­nate seat came open when Gov. Steve Bes­hear named the in­cum­bent, Repub­li­can Sen. Dan Kelly, to a judge­ship. Mr. Bes­hear hoped Democrats would win the seat, which would have helped erode Repub­li­cans’ Se­nate ma­jor­ity in Frank­fort and made it eas­ier to ad­vance a pro­posal to al­low elec­tronic slot ma­chines at horserac­ing tracks.

The racing in­dus­try poured money into the race to back the Demo­crat. Mr. Robert­son, the state Repub­li­can chair­man, said early cal­cu­la­tions show that the Democrats and their al­lies dou­bled Repub­li­cans’ spending.

But the Hig­don cam­paign ran hard against the na­tional Demo­cratic Party, and the move paid off.

The strat­egy in­cluded us­ing Mrs. Pelosi in a tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment and in di­rect mail­ings that tied Mr. Hay­don, the Demo­cratic can­di­date, to the speaker. “Pelosi and Hay­don don’t share our val­ues,” read one mail­ing, while an­other said, “One-party rule in Ken­tucky will lead to a big mess — just like Nancy Pelosi’s Wash­ing­ton, D.C.”

Mr. Robert­son said they tested how well Mrs. Pelosi played in the district and said the at­ti­tude was clear: “She doesn’t need to buy a va­ca­tion home in Ken­tucky.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ken­tucky state Rep. Jimmy Hig­don won a spe­cial elec­tion for the state se­nate on Dec. 8 by run­ning against Democrats in Wash­ing­ton rather than stress­ing state and lo­cal is­sues, a tac­tic oth­ers are likely to use in 2010.

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