WINCHESTER, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky voters are preparing to go to the polls Tuesday for several primary elections that will test the reach of teachers’ political power and set the stage for a key Congressional race.
And amid the noise of the big campaigns, a county clerk’s race in eastern Kentucky offers a possible intriguing matchup for November: A gay man running against the woman who denied him a marriage license in 2015 and went to jail for it. But first, David Ermold will have to win a crowded Democratic primary in Rowan County on Tuesday before he can challenge Republican Kim Davis in the fall.
The primaries come on the same day as similar elections in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas as the calendar creeps closer to November’s pivotal midterm elections. In Kentucky, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr will likely win the Republican nomination to seek a fourth term in a district that includes Lexington and its surrounding counties.
But lining up for a chance to defeat him in November are six Democrats . They include former fighter pilot Amy McGrath and Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington.
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Both have raised more than $1 million in what has become a tight race. McGrath criticized Gray during a debate on statewide television last week as being recruited by establishment Democrats. Gray responded with a TV ad on Friday criticizing McGrath for not living in the district for the past two decades during her military service.
On Monday, both candidates held a series of low-key events throughout the district. McGrath toured the Bluegrass Stockyards, where she took in a cattle auction while talking with voters like Vonnie Gesinske, who said McGrath had her vote.
“She looks like a real person,” she said. “There’s a lot of politicians who aren’t real.”
Gray toured the Clark County Courthouse as part of his election eve travels where he joked with people he hoped they weren’t too tired by the barrage of TV ads. He met a woman who had just cast an absentee ballot for him, pausing to give her a hug.
“He’s done a lot of things for Lexington and I think he will do well if they don’t convince him to start taking checks,” said Mary Higgins, referring to the propensity for Washington politicians to be swayed by special interests. “I think he’ll make a good Congressman.”
Outside of the 6th Congressional District, at least 40 current or retired educators are running for seats in the state legislature, part of a national movement of teachers seeking better conditions for the classroom. Of those candidates, 16 have primary elections on Tuesday, including four challenging Republican incumbents.
The most high-profile race involves Republican Rep. Jonathan Shell, the House majority floor leader who was one of the architects of a new law that made changes to the state’s troubled retirement systems. That law prompted thousands of teachers to use their sick days to protest at the state Capitol, forcing dozens of school districts to close for the day. R. Travis Brenda, a math teacher at Rockcastle County High School, hopes to capitalize on that anger to defeat Shell in a closely watched race.
But one of Tuesday’s most interesting races is in Rowan County, where four Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge Republican County Clerk Kim Davis. Davis made international news in 2015 when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious beliefs. She eventually went to jail before the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law removing clerks’ names from the licenses.
David Ermold, one of the gay men denied a marriage license in 2015, wants to replace Davis. His campaign has garnered more than $200,000 in donations from donors in at least 48 states. But he has to win over voters wary of reliving the media scrutiny from 2015. Other candidates include James Jessee, Nashia Fife and Elwood Caudill Jr., a 20-year veteran of the county property valuation office who lost to Davis by just 27 votes in the 2014 primary.
Davis ran as a Democrat in 2014 before switching to the GOP.
The polls will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time.