It will be the most watched U.S. Senate race in the country this year, and it’s expected to come down to a battle royale between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and the presumed favorite for the Democratic nomination, state Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
But nine candidates, including McConnell and Grimes, have filed for the May primary — four Democrats and five Republicans.
McConnell is the prohibitive favorite to win his party’s nomination for the seat he has held for five terms, first being elected in 1984 in an upset win over incumbent Democrat Walter “Dee” Huddleston as Ronald Reagan swept to an easy second-term re-election.
But he’s being challenged by Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin, who is supported by several Kentucky and some national tea party groups. Bevin has consistently fallen behind McConnell in publicly released polls by 20 points or more, although that’s an improvement from the first polls after he got in where he trailed by almost 40 points.
Three other minor candidate Republicans have filed: Shawna Sterling of Sharpsburg; James Bradley Copas of Lexington; and Chris Payne of Salvisa. Gurley Martin, a 90-year-old from Owensboro earlier filed but has withdrawn.
In the Democratic primary, Grimes is opposed by University of Louisville professor Greg Leichty; Burrel Charles Farnsley of Louisville, who has run unsuccessfully for Congress previously; and Todd Becktenwald of Louisville.
Sixteen filed for Congress from Kentucky, including all incumbents. Only one, Kentucky’s lone Democrat Congressman, John Yarmuth of Louisville, faces a primary opponent. E. Ray Pierce filed as a Democratic candidate in the Third District but isn’t considered a threat. Louisville physician Michael Macfarlane filed as a Republican and opposes the Affordable Care Act.
Only one incumbent is thought to face any risk to re-election, and Republican Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr of Lexington is still favored to win a second term. He will face off against the winner of a Democratic primary between Elisabeth Jensen, an education advocate from Lexington, and Geoffrey M. “Geoff” Young, a former state employee.
In the First District, incumbent Republican Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Wesley Seaton Bolin of Murray and Charles Kendall Hatchett of Benton. Whitfield defeated Hatchett two years ago.
In the Second, Democrat Ron Leach, a retired military officer from Brandenburg, is challenging Republican incumbent Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green.
Democrat Peter Newberry of Berry will challenge first-term Republican Thomas Massie in the heavily Republican and conservative Fourth District.
Kentucky’s longest serving congressman and chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Republican Harold “Hal” Rogers of Somerset, will face one of two Democrats in the fall for the Fifth District seat. Running in the Democratic primary are attorney Kenneth S. Stepp of Manchester who has run previously but never mounted a serious challenge to Rogers, and Billy Ray Wilson of London.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.