What to Look for on Election Day in Northern Kentucky
The ads will stop.
The door-knocking will stop.
The fights on social media will stop.
OK, a couple of those things are true.
But, Election Day has finally arrived. Let the chips fall where they may.
Northern Kentucky has no shortage of exciting races to look forward to as the numbers start to roll in from Covington, Newport, and Florence.
Here are some things to look for:
Can Democrats win in Republican country, and can Republicans win in Democrat country?
Two of the many legislative races across the region are of particular interest because they are, one, partisan, and two, hotly contested.
Let's start with Senate District 24, currently held by Republican Wil Schroder, of Wilder, who is looking to win a second term. He faces headwinds from statewide opposition from educators and other public workers for his and other Republicans' support for a controversial pension reform bill. The Democrats pitted political newcomer Rachel Roberts in this wild, unpredictable year.
And Roberts delivered a campaign like a seasoned pro, with a strong message, impressive branding, aggressive campaigning, and an astonishing fundraising initiative that put about $90,000 in her coffers.
Schroder, impressive in his own right, raised nearly three times that.
The district includes all of Campbell, Pendleton, and Bracken counties, all of which are trending blood red, which should be good news for Republicans.
But Roberts has an enthusiastic support base and has made a name for herself locally in case this first race doesn't work out.
In House District 65, the partisan roles are reversed. The northern Kenton County district includes much of Covington, as well as Ludlow, Park Hills, and Bromley. Since 1994, it has been represented by Democrat Arnold Simpson.
Along with House District 67 in northern Campbell Co. (held by Democrat Dennis Keene), these are the reliably blue streaks in a sea of red on typical Election Days in Northern Kentucky.
But Simpson is not on the ballot this year. He decided to retire.
And his past elections aren't much help in analyzing why and how Democrats have owned this seat in a conservative region. Simpson has run virtually unopposed every single time, save for a couple blowouts.
In the open seat race, the Democrats turned to former Covington fire chief Buddy Wheatley and the Republicans nominated current Covington city commissioner Jordan Huizenga.
Neither candidate has been short on aggressive campaigning or fundraising. Wheatley brought in more than $75,000 at last report, and Huizenga raised about $100,000.
Knowing the talk of the "blue wave", and its Kentucky-centric "Remember in November" campaign motivated by angry teachers whose protests dominated political discourse back in the spring, Huizenga ran a smart campaign as a Republican in a left-leaning district. He heralded his education bonafides (he's an executive with educational nonprofit Children, Inc.), and in a barrage of mailers sent to voters in the district, his message was clear: he is a candidate that is all about education.
Wheatley mostly ran on his campaign theme of "Responding to the Call", capitalizing on his natural fit as a former firefighter among the angry public employees who led the protests against the pension bill.
What we will know on Tuesday night is quite possibly that if Roberts can't win Senate District 24, no Democrat can, and if Huizenga can't win House District 65, no Republican can. Each represented their party in seemingly uphill territory with all the necessary vigor they could muster.
Other legislative races of interest:
How close can Col Owens, a Democrat, come to unseating Republican incumbent Adam Koenig in House District 69? The former chairman of the Kenton County Democratic Party raised nearly $100,000 to win the district that runs along Dixie Highway from Fort Mitchell to Florence. But Koenig is a fundraiser, too, and pulled in another haul, more than $150,000.
How wild will House District 66 be? The Florence and northern Boone County seat is open this year, since Addia Wuchner, a Republican, isn't running again. The seat would be reliably GOP, except for the fact that Republican nominee Ed Massey, a member of the Boone County board of education, is being challenged from the right by independent "true conservative" Stacie Earl. Gov. Matt Bevin bucked his own party and seems to be behind the independent in this race. The Democrats have nominated former teacher Roberto Henriquez, and even the Libertarians are getting in on the fun, with candidate Lex Hannan. In this four-way race, it seems that anything could happen.
Mayors are fighting for their political lives
It's a tough year to be an incumbent mayor in Northern Kentucky, even if your city has a lot going on development-wise.
All along the Ohio and up and down the Licking, local mayors are fighting to be returned to the city building.
The most vulnerable appear to be Ludlow Mayor Ken Wynn and Dayton Mayor Virgil Boruske, both of whom face up-and-coming councilmen.
Wynn is hoping to fend off a feisty challenge from Josh Boone, who hit Wynn hard on perceived lack of leadership. Boruske faces popular man-about-town Ben Baker, in a race that may come down to the literal city building: when and where to build one, if at all?
Butch Callery in Villa Hills is no stranger to taking political licks. The baseball fan batted .500 in his four races for Covington mayor. But now he's top-dog in Villa Hills, where the first two and a half years were spent with glittering headlines about unanimous votes from council and a well-received road tax to fix the city's ailing infrastructure. But what may have been a prize in some cities - a major multi-million dollar mixed-use development on highly prized land - was like a nuclear bomb in the posh suburb. The development, known as Sanctuary Village for its location on the St. Walburg Monastery, motivated a vocal group of opponents who launched DefendVH, and a mayoral opponent in Heather Jansen.
In Taylor Mill, city commissioner Sarah Frietch has been a thorn in Mayor Dan Bell's side for the past two years as they have served together amid continuous tumult, culminating in the departure of longtime city administrator Jill Bailey. Frietch surprised many two years ago when her upstart campaign garnered her the most votes in an election that saw two longtime incumbents ousted from the city commission. Has her popularity soured? Has Bell made his case for reelection?
Ft. Mitchell Mayor Jude Hehman has a familiar foe in councilman Jim Hummeldorf. The two faced off in 2014, with Hehman winning. Hummeldorf was returned to council two years later, and is now taking his second shot at Hehman. Ft. Mitchell is one of Northern Kentucky's most coveted addresses, but it's seen some difficulties in recent months with Christ Hospital's plans for major multi-million dollar development on the former Drawbridge Inn site held up in courts courtesy of rival St. Elizabeth, as well as the closure of its beloved Remke grocery. Will Hehman's vision for the future be enough to save him? Has Hummeldorf made the case that he's the right man to lead?
Other mayoral races of interest:
The race for Erlanger mayor will be one of the most competitive and highly-watched in the region on Election Day. Two current council members, Randy Blankenship and Jessica Fette, are having it out in their attempt to replace Tyson Hermes, who decided to run for council instead of reelection as mayor. Both candidates have raised around $20,000 for their respective campaigns.
In Bellevue, Mayor Ed Riehl isn't running for a third term, leaving the seat open for a battle between councilman Steve Brun and businessman Charlie Cleves. Cleves ran away in a three-way primary in May, so Tuesday will reveal whether he has sealed the deal or whether Brun has made up the significant ground he needed to.
And Florence Mayor Diane Whalen faces a challenge from Josh Walton, y'all.
What will happen in Campbell County?
Judge/Executive Steve Pendery is regularly challenged in Republican primaries and in general elections, and since 1998 has come out ahead each time. Now in pursuit of his sixth term, he faces what could be his toughest November race yet: a head-to-head battle with former Republican-turned-independent Charlie "Coach" Coleman. The current county commissioner already has one Republican scalp on his shelf, after defeating incumbent commissioner Pete Garrett in 2014 in a primary. Coleman and Pendery have rarely seen eye to eye at the fiscal court, so who will voters choose to send back?
Will Republicans cross over to keep one of the rare Northern Kentucky Democrats in office? Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Michelle Snodgrass sure hopes so. Her opponent, Justin Fortner, wants everyone in the red county to know that he's the Republican candidate, evidenced by the font-size selected for his campaign signs declaring as much. Snodgrass is banking on her experience, while Fortner is counting on party identification.
RCN's live election coverage begins shortly after 6 p.m. right here on the website and on Facebook. See you then!
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher