Kentucky House race pits GOP old guard against Tea Party, Rand Paul

A GOP House primary in northern Kentucky on Tuesday is pitting the Republican old guard against the GOP’s Tea Party wing and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

A total of seven Republicans are competing in the primary for retiring Rep. Geoff Davis’s (R-Ky.) seat, but three have ascended to the top of the field. 

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State Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington (R) has Davis’s blessing, and has also secured the support of former Sen. Jim Bunning (R), who represented Kentucky in Congress for more than two decades. 

Squaring off with Webb-Edgington is Thomas Massie, an elected county official backed by Paul, the Club for Growth and Tea Party groups. A libertarian-oriented super-PAC, Liberty for All, has spent more than $550,000 on ads supporting Massie and attacking his rivals, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. 

A third Republican, county official Gary Moore, has run on a platform emphasizing social conservatism and has racked up endorsements from anti-abortion groups. 

The dynamics of the race echo those of another GOP primary last week in Nebraska, where the GOP establishment and the fiscal-conservative wing of the party lined up behind different candidates in the state’s Senate primary. 

“You can’t deny it by looking at who’s endorsed,” said one GOP strategist with knowledge of Kentucky politics. “But it’s a little more complicated, because you have three viable candidates who are all relatively new.”

In the Nebraska race, state Attorney General Jon Bruning (R), state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R) and their allies attacked each other relentlessly for months. In the final two weeks, Deb Fischer, a rural rancher and state lawmaker with a bare-bones campaign, surged ahead of Bruning and Stenberg to win the primary. 

“Does a Deb Fischer happen in Kentucky, where Alecia has some positive name identification, and people are just sick of the sniping between the two men?” the GOP operative said.

The district leans heavily Republican, and the winner of the primary is expected to face few serious obstacles in the general election in the fall. 

In another district in central Kentucky, two newcomers are challenging Republican Andy Barr on Tuesday in the primary to take on four-term Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.). 

Barr, an attorney, came within 700 votes of unseating Chandler in 2010, and Republicans have made Chandler a top target for 2012. But redistricting added new Democratic voters to Chandler’s Lexington-area district.

Turnout for the primary is expected to be low in Kentucky, where there is no Senate race this year. State officials are projecting about 10 percent of registered voters will participate.